Washington Wins at America in Bloom

Washington retained its five-bloom rating and circle of champions status at the America in Bloom symposium in Holliston, Mass., Saturday, Oct. 7. Individuals involved in the Washington in Bloom program gathered at city hall to celebrate Monday, Oct. 9. From left are Mary Beth Rettke, director of tourism; Beth Kleekamp, Garden Club; Chad Owens, parks department foreman; Mayor Sandy Lucy; Lynne Curtis, Garden Club; Director of Parks and Recreation Darren Dunkle; Linda Becker, Garden Club; Josh Wargo, horticulturist and arborist for the Washington parks department; and Dave Wehmeyer and Sally Bocklage, Washington in Bloom committee co-chairs. Missourian Photo.

The city of Washington will host the 2020 America in Bloom National Symposium and Awards Ceremony.

Now that it’s official, the Washington in Bloom committee is searching for volunteers.

“We need help,” Parks Director Wayne Dunker said during a meeting Thursday.

“We can’t do this by ourselves,” he said. “It’s a pretty big undertaking.”

Thursday’s meeting drew over 20 people. It was held for community members and potential volunteers to find out more about AIB.

The symposium features cities from across the country competing and learning from each other on how to beautify, preserve heritage and plant. 

Each summer judges are sent to Washington to critique seven categories, including flowers, landscaped areas, urban forestry, environmental efforts, celebrating heritage, community vitality and overall impression. 

The judges come up with four or five suggestions for improvement in each category. 

Last year Washington was awarded the Community Mentoring Award and received seven stars out of 10 with an honorable mention for its urban forestry.  

Mayor Sandy Lucy was first approached about the possibility of hosting the symposium two years ago in Boston, Mass., by AIB President Katy Moss Warner.

“I didn’t ask what we needed to do or anything. I just said we could do it,” Lucy said. “She was serious so here we are.”

Josh Wargo, parks department horticulturist/arborist, gave a presentation during the meeting regarding the benefits of plants and how they improve the community overall.

“They can be used in parking lots as a detention basin to collect pollutants before it gets into the streams and rivers,” Wargo said.

However, it was stressed that AIB isn’t just about blooming flowers or plants.

“You can bloom your heritage and environment in that you can make it better,” Sally Bocklage, WIB co-chair, said. “It’s a community beautification and betterment program.”

The city of Washington got its start with AIB in 2011. The first year was a learning process for the WIB committee.

“We had rules amongst ourselves,” Lucy said. “We can’t take the judges on this street and we can’t take them on this street. If you take them to the hotel don’t go that way. We wanted to show the best we could. We had our secret paths.”

The mayor noted the host city of the symposium in Boston was a smaller city similar to the size of Washington.

“I think we’ll do a better job,” she said.

While many of the symposiums are held in larger cities, it’s not uncommon for the actual host to be a small community nearby.

When Washington serves as host, the bulk of the symposium will be held at the Hyatt Regency in Downtown St. Louis.

The reasoning is the hotel must be large enough to hold all 200 to 250 people who are expected and there must be enough conference rooms.

Washington will be responsible for the Friday portion of the symposium. The day will consist of tours around Washington, as well as a provided lunch.

Guests will have time after the tours to explore the city on their own before returning to St. Louis that evening.

Suggested places to showcase on the tours include the All-Abilities Park, Miller-Post Nature Reserve, Rotary Riverfront Trail and the Washington Historical Society.

“We will need a group that’s going to decide what they should see and not see when they’re in town,” Dunker said, “as the mayor mentioned earlier.”

Volunteers are needed to help with table decor, providing lunch and directing tours for the day in Washington. There’s also a need for volunteers to help with the registration table at the hotel in St. Louis.

The symposium will run from Thursday, Oct. 1, through Saturday, Oct. 3, in 2020.