By Katie Trautz
I recently sat down with Linn Syz, former board member at Montpelier Alive, to discuss her efforts to keep Montpelier’s downtown streets beautiful and full of colorful flowers. Syz has volunteered for years to maintain and expand the plantings across Montpelier. Her efforts are a key part of Montpelier Alive’s broader commitment to downtown beautification, including holiday decorations, the procurement of benches and trash cans, public art, and more. We asked Syz about the history and the behind-the-scenes efforts that go into the downtown flowers.
Whose idea was it to have Montpelier Alive take care of downtown plants and flowers and how did the idea develop?
LS: Pinky Clark, the former owner of Minuteman Press, used to ask businesses to donate money for flower barrels. In 2009, $1,145 was raised and spent on approximately 30 barrels and flowers around town. Montpelier Alive volunteers planted them, and store owners watered the barrels. By 2013, there were 80 barrels planted around town. With the passage of the Downtown Improvement District funding, Montpelier Alive [dedicated] almost $5,000 in 2013 to cover the costs of more barrels, soil, and flowers. We now continue to place barrels along the streets, with a total of more than 100 plants in both barrels and hanging baskets!
Where are the locations of these plants?
LS: Fast forward to 2022, and we have 47 hanging baskets and 61 plants in barrels and a few other planters around town. They stretch on State Street from Taylor Street to Main Street and along Main Street from Barre Street to School Street. We also have barrels at the Hunger Mountain Co-op and in front of a few businesses along Barre Street. Business owners continue to water barrels in front of their stores, and our [contracted] waterer maintains our “orphan” barrels and the hanging baskets.
When does the planning begin, and how is the work spread out over the summer? Who else participates?
LS: Plants arrive on May 26, and a crew of volunteers, some from Montpelier Alive and some from the Montpelier Garden Club, plant and hang the baskets and fill the barrels with flowers. Public Works is a great partner; they put out the barrels where we designate and fill them with soil. They also pick them up in the fall and store the barrels and the soil over the winter. Sonja [Grahn] and Sarah [MacAllister] from Botanica are also wonderful partners. They make arrangements with Claussen’s, in Colchester, for delivery, and Sonja is always there to help with the unloading and to be sure that the order is correct.
Why do you think it’s important to have this beautification project? Do you hear positive feedback?
LS: All downtowns look better when there are colorful plants around town. We get so many comments from people when we are planting and watering about how much they love the flowers. I run into people during the winter, and they ask me when the plants are coming. I think that because of our long winters here in Vermont, people especially appreciate our colorful downtown.
Are you a gardener yourself? Is it an important part of your life?
LS: I have been a gardener since I was a kid in 4-H. I have very large perennial and vegetable gardens. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to get into the dirt and nurture my plants as they emerge and produce either flowers or vegetables or fruit. Working in my gardens is the best way I know to replenish my energy and love for our outdoors.
Are there any other plans to expand the green areas or beautify other locations in downtown Montpelier?
LS: I would love to see more plantings all over town. A few years ago [Montpelier Alive Design Committee member] Didi Brush and I formed the Montpelier Garden Club in order to spiff up the gardens in front of city hall … We also took on the plantings and maintenance at the roundabout on Main Street.
Katie Trautz is the event and communications coordinator for Montpelier Alive. She teaches and performs music on the side, and lives in Montpelier with her family. To volunteer with Montpelier Alive or the Montpelier Garden Club, email email@example.com.