- Associated Press - Saturday, May 2, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Even on the grayest days, there’s a little sunshine peeking from the city’s flower beds, baskets and barrels.

Those bright yellow blooms are your invitation to the work of the City and Borough of Juneau’s landscape maintenance crew. This nine-person green-thumb brigade is responsible for the hanging baskets and whiskey barrels that spill bright blossoms each summer. These nine toil in rain and shine to fill the city’s medians with a wash of color. They’re the ones you see mowing acres of emerald lawn on city properties across the sprawling borough.

“I’m really fond of combinations,” longtime landscape maintenance crew member Carol Ackerson said while tending juvenile plants in the city greenhouse on Riverside Drive. “Like, for instance, that really wild, deep purple next to that yellow, and then the silver next to that. The brighter colors bring you into a design and then you get to see the rest of the project.”

Supervisor Ben Patterson said the crew has about 30 tried and true varieties of annual flowers and ornamental plants, and they try a few new varieties each year. The annuals need to survive and thrive in Juneau’s temperamental weather.

Despite using much the same flowers year after year, the crew makes it a point to design the landscaping differently each year, pairing different varieties or bringing in different colors.

“The crew loves to do different designs in the medians and things,” Patterson said. “I’m not sure if people notice when they’re driving by at 45 miles per hour or not, but it’s fun for us.”

The crew starts the plants from seed in February each year and tend the roughly 17,000 individual plants in the greenhouse until it’s time to plant in mid-May. That’s when residents and visitors see the crew planting the median of Egan Drive, filling the hanging baskets and working in various parks.

Once the flower beds, baskets and barrels are planted, it’s time for maintenance, including weeding, watering on dry days and deadheading withered blooms to allow more to grow - especially when it’s a wet season. At the end of the summer, in September, the crew removes the annuals, since they last only a season. There are at least three crew members mowing on any given day.

“We’re spread a little bit thin, but it keeps us busy,” Patterson said.

The landscape maintenance crew of nine works hard, Patterson said. They care for the city properties and some contracted properties. They take care of the airport and Evergreen Cemetery as well as city parks and the grassy strips along the docks.

“We have a lot of facilities, not just parks,” Ackerson said. “Evergreen Cemetery is one people maybe don’t think much about. We do burials and headstones and all that sort . of work. Maintaining the landscape in itself is big.”

Most crew members work only nine months of the year, but they come back each growing season. Patterson started with the city in 2003 and Ackerson has been on the crew since 1987, about the time that a concerted effort to beautify the city began.

“I think there is a strong desire to beautify the city,” she said. “I’ve noticed a strong interest throughout the community to step up. . It’s encouraging.”

Facilities, Parks and Landscape Superintendent Brent Fischer views the decorative landscaping as a quality of life issue, not just an aesthetic one.

Juneau Police Department’s Lt. David Campbell told the Empire in 2014 about a paper he wrote in graduate school on the “broken windows” theory - the role of community appearance in preventing crime.

Broken windows, graffiti or general decay send a message that no one cares about the area. A clean, cared-for neighborhood says the opposite.

“(Landscaping) just definitely adds something to the town area that, if it didn’t have, it would look more like inner-city Detroit or something,” Patterson speculated. “You would notice if it wasn’t here.”

Some people already notice, and they talk about it. The crew delights in the positive feedback they receive - from locals especially.

“Everyone loves to see these flowers around town,” Patterson said. “It’s pretty rewarding.

Ackerson sees the flowers as a morale booster.

“In a rainy, wet climate, a little blast of yellow driving down the highway or while walking along the street helps set the mood for a nice people,” she said. “So many people stop me and say ‘Thank you.’”

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Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, https://www.juneauempire.com


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