The flashy colors and dramatic arrangements in the flower pots at each intersection along Washington Street are often the first things people notice about Columbus — and they make quite the impression.
“Who does these flower pots?” asked Holly Tittle-Hudson, a visitor from Lafayette, as she gently touched a leaf from a hanging basket. “They are beautiful.”
For the past five years, Columbus native Becky Church has been quietly directing the symphony of colors and design in the Washington Street flower pots.
Working under the name Becky’s Flowers, and also known as the Flower Lady, the Columbus in Bloom board member and Columbus Farmers Market chairwoman manages not only the 56 pots and 18 hanging plants on Washington Street but also the container plants at 31 other properties around the city.
Among the properties are Hotel Indigo, Centra Credit Union, MainSource Bank, the Columbus Learning Center, Cummins locations and several schools.
“We tried to do it ourselves before but probably didn’t have the expertise,” said Chris Beach, director of operations at the Columbus Learning Center, where Church maintains nine flower containers.
“(Our pots) always look absolutely beautiful, and a ride downtown is just a feast for the eyes,” she said.
The flower pots along Washington Street are rooted in the city’s 2006 participation in the America in Bloom competition, said Lynn Lucas, executive director of the Columbus Area Visitors Center.
The city purchased large flower pots that year for Washington Street plantings, originally maintained by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. In 2008, after the recession hit, Church said she took responsibility for them, earning “whatever amount could be raised” from local business owners and Columbus’ Community Development.
The following year, she received a city contract. In 2014, the contract was for $17,825.
“People notice the plantings,” Lucas said. “Yes, people do love them. We think that not only is our (Visitors Center) building very important but also the landscaping — and our flowers are part of that.”
Like all visual artists who have mastered their medium, Church’s flower pots have a cohesive look and a decided style. Her color palette is played out in purple fan flowers, lemonade lantanas, big red begonias and pomegranate petunias.
She uses the thriller-filler-spiller method to design pots:
Spiller plants such as supertunias, verbena and trailing lantana spill out of pots.
Fillers, or mounding plants such as begonias and diamond frost, flesh out the center.
Arrangements are crowned with majestic palms or purple fountain grass. These are the thrillers.
Church’s flowers come from Whipker’s Market and Greenhouse, with the exception of the palms, which came to Columbus from Florida.
She got hooked on flowers at an early age.
“My grandmother was a gardener, and I was always drawn to it,” she said. “I love being out and digging in the dirt. I feel blessed to make Columbus even more beautiful, one flower at a time.”
Church motors around the city to tend to her duties in a Ford F-250 truck, sometimes setting out for watering as early as 5 a.m. Her truck bed is taken up by a 300-gallon water tank. It takes Church about 10 hours and four fill-ups to get through all of her properties.
She is armed with few tools: a 48-inch watering wand, a pair of scissors, a bucket for clippings, a pair of gloves and a “lucky” digger she’s had for countless years.
Church sets her schedule at the beginning of the week, but sometimes Mother Nature revises it, delivering rain or temperature swings.
Because flower containers are at street level, Church has to be vigilant; humans are bigger pests than passing critters.
Pots sometimes become a depository for trash after a weekend party. One morning, she found a family of praying mantises in another. But mainly, she guards her plants against the weather.
“I have to constantly monitor the flowers,” Church said. “I don’t leave the city limits in the summer.”
Church keeps the Washington Street pots full for three seasons, although most of her properties have a four-season change-out.
In early spring, she plants all of the containers with pansies, which stay in place until mid-May, when she plants summer annuals, which last until mid-September. Then she plants fall mums. In mid-November, greenery goes in. As long as the pots are out, plant material is in them.
“There’s nothing uglier than an empty pot,” she said.
The Washington Street pots will be removed in November and stored over the winter by Parks and Recreation, and the cycle begins again in spring.
The pots on Fifth and Sixth streets remain, however, filled with evergreens for the holiday season.
In the coming year, Mayor Kristen Brown hopes to add brackets to the light posts on Fourth Street to add more hanging baskets.
“I get comments and feedback (on the flower pots) all the time,” Brown said. “I think they beautify the downtown area. Generally, when I’m out, people compliment us for the flowers. I know people really appreciate them.”
The pots have had a spillover effect.
On Washington Street, business owners have added their own pots, filling in spaces between the city’s floral stations.
“I know we’re known for our wonderful architecture and our wonderful people,” Church said. “But I would love for Columbus to also be known as the ‘City of Flowers.’”