Somehow, every year in the urgent days of May, people find time to fill the library windowboxes with flowers. That’s 12 boxes, each 6 feet long.
In the early days, it might have been done by library staff. Since the 1960s, at least, it has been volunteer work. An email from former St. Anthony Park resident Arne Shulstad tells of his family’s flower and vegetable stand at Como and Scudder; his mother, Leona Shulstad, delivered her homegrown flowers by red wagon, about three blocks and planted the window boxes herself.
By the 1980s, Warren Gore had taken over the job, working with the Christopherson kids and other volunteers. Gore was an ardent gardener, president of the branch library board, and someone who made any volunteer job he touched fun for everyone.
The next ladder climber was Lori Schuster, who volunteered with her family. She recalls the advantage of a tall son-in-law, who could reach the sky-high boxes on the north side. Her daughter, Neza, was always there, too, and is still active in neighborhood horticulture as she now organizes the St. Anthony Park Elementary School’s annual plant sale.
During Schuster’s time, the Como Park Conservatory had a program called “Community and Park Adopt-A-Garden.” Being “adopted” meant getting free plants plus a planting design. Schuster would drive her van to the conservatory when the plants were ready: red-and-white petunias, asparagus fern and red salvia. An old invoice states that the retail value of her load, in the year 2000, was $185. The funds that fed that program eventually dried up. No more free flowers. No free design.
Meanwhile, in 1996, a group of founding residents started the St. Anthony Park Garden Club.
And around the time the free flowers disappeared, Ron Dufault, a club member, took on the design challenge of the window boxes. Dufault loved color, and his colors caught the attention of passersby on the other side of street. He recruited help from the club, including Schuster, and kept up the high standards for 10 years. Now he volunteers at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds instead, using his professional background to make garden beauty there. Before handing the job to me, he gave me a brief tutorial at Bruegger’s. I use the plans he handed me every year, as a reminder of scale and number. Our retail value is no longer $185; it’s a minimum of $500. The funds come from the Garden Club’s annual plant sale during the St. Anthony Park Arts Festival.
Those volunteers you see up on the ladders watering plants are members of the St. Anthony Park Garden Club and local library association. But it’s not an exclusive group.
Next year, come May, you’re welcome to join us.
Alice Duggan is a writer, gardener and ladder climber.