America in Bloom judges toured Washington July 11-12. America in Bloom is a national program designed to promote nationwide beautification through education and community involvement by encouraging the use of flowers, plants, trees, and other environmental and lifestyle enhancements. From left are Dave Wehmeyer, Washington in Bloom chair; and Melanie Menachem Riggs and Katy Moss Warner, judges, touring the healing garden at Mercy Hospital Washington.

Top honors for the prestigious 2016 America in Bloom (AIB) National Awards Program were announced at the annual awards symposium held in Arroyo Grande, Calif., this past Saturday.

Washington received the highest rating, five blooms, and won its population category, Circle of Champions, medium.

The city also received a special award for most impressive pollinator garden and special recognition for landscaped areas.

“Since each year of our America in Bloom participation begins with a new score sheet, it presents a challenge to keep our five bloom rating in place, and many people set out to do just that,” said Sally Bocklage, Washington in Bloom (WIB) co-chair. “This makes it even more exciting to learn that we’ve maintained that sought-after status from a national program.”

Bocklage noted that competing in the Champions category makes awards more difficult to earn.

“To learn that we had a big win in the Champions category was almost overwhelming,” she said.

The Washington delegation traveling to the symposium includes Dave Wehmeyer, Washington in Bloom (WIB) co-chair; Darren Dunkle, Washington parks director; Josh Wargo, city arborist and horticulturist; and John Steffens, WIB committee member.

“The judges said they were impressed at how well we do everything,” Wehmeyer said. “Many communities excel in a few areas but Washington does a great job in all areas thanks to our volunteers.”    

Wehmeyer said that the team came back with several new ideas and looks forward to implementing some of them in Washington next year.

“I think the biggest lesson for me was how lucky we are to live in the Midwest (Washington). California has had a drought for the last six years,” Wehmeyer said, adding that people take the green grass and trees for granted.

Bocklage said she is proud that the city won an award for “Most Impressive Pollinator Garden.”

“Knowing of the increased awareness for the importance of these gardens makes it even more special,” she said, adding that Dave Wehmeyer has helped plan and implement numerous gardens throughout the city and parks.

Both Wehmeyer and Bocklage lauded the city employees and volunteers, including Mayor Sandy Lucy and Darren Dunkle, parks director.

Judging Criteria

All participants were evaluated on six criteria: overall impression, environmental awareness, heritage preservation, urban forestry, landscaped areas and floral displays.

Additionally, they were judged on their community involvement across municipal, residential and commercial sectors. America in Bloom is the only national awards program that sends specially trained judges to personally visit participants.

Each participant receives a detailed written evaluation that can be used as a guide to future improvements.

Leslie Pittenger and Jack Clasen, AIB judges, visited communities of similar populations and spent two days touring each town, meeting municipal officials, residents and volunteers. Competitors in the Circle of Champions-Medium category were Arroyo Grande, Calif.; Fairhope, Ala.; and Holland, Mich.

In addition to its 2016 honors, Washington has an impressive history of past successes with AIB, including winning its population category and outstanding achievement awards in urban forestry and community involvement.

To date, 250 communities from 41 states have participated in the program and more than 22 million people have been touched by it.