A city is committed to landscape excellence

Residents of Bexley take great pride in the landscaping of their homes and yards. The city held its first ever “Beautification Contest” last year and drew 28 impressive entries.

Every city has its own claim to fame. Some are known for their sports teams, others for their cuisine, and still others for their history. Bexley, Ohio, is renowned for its landscaping. “I can’t really describe it; you just have to see it,” says Mark Moore, who’s been employed by the city for 26 years, the last 14 as superintendent of the parks department. “Bexley is a beautifully landscaped community, not just the public areas, but the private residential areas, as well. Everyone takes pride in it.”

Photos Courtesy of the City of Bexley.
One of the Bexley’s landscaping initiatives highlighted by the American in Bloom judges was the widespread use of landscape baskets on the city’s streetlights.

So, it wasn’t too surprising when Bexley was honored in 2008 by America in Bloom (www.americainbloom.org), “an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting nationwide beautification programs and both personal and community involvement through the use of flowers, plants, trees and other environmental and lifestyle enhancements, and to providing educational programs and resources to that end.”

The program covers eight areas of a community: floral displays, environmental awareness, landscaped areas, tidiness, urban forestry, heritage preservation, turf and groundcovers and community.

The city had learned about the America in Bloom program a year earlier and decided to participate. “It was something we were very interested in, because we have a very active greenscape community here. We didn’t go into the awards thinking we would win; we just wanted to see how we stacked up with other communities in terms of how involved our city was.”

It turns out that Bexley stacked up pretty nicely. “We had to put together a portfolio, and then we had two judges come to Bexley to judge all eight criteria,” says Moore. From that, a community is given an overall “Bloom” score. Bexley received four out of five Blooms, which placed it second in its population class against other cities from around the country. “We won the overall ‘landscape criteria’ for the whole contest,” says Moore proudly. For that, Bexley was presented the Project Evergreen Landscaped Areas Award.

In addition, the America in Bloom committee was impressed with some of the particular landscaping efforts Bexley had undertaken. The group noted that, “To save on water and labor, the use of an organic product called mycorrhizae [H3O/Moisture Manager] keeps the baskets hydrated. Mycorrhizae are naturally occurring fungi that attach themselves to plant roots and help plants absorb water and nutrients in the soil. This cuts water and labor by 50 percent.”

While the America in Bloom contest helped highlight Bexley’s landscaping, the fact is the commitment to landscape excellence has been a part of the city for years. “The best way to describe it is to come to Bexley,” says Moore. “You literally can’t go from one end of the city to the other without seeing beautiful landscaping the entire way—it doesn’t matter if it’s a $90,000 home or a $2 million home.”

Residents of Bexley frequently take part in community green-up efforts. “There’s always something going on. The civic groups in town do a lot of projects to help us out; the local realtors’ group does cleanups to keep the streets looking nice,” says Moore. “We have a very active parks system, [and] an active recreation program. Everyone here seems to want to be involved.”

It wasn’t surprising that 28 residents took part in a “Beautification Contest” the city ran on its own, simultaneous to the America in Bloom competition. “I went around with the America in Bloom committee, and we judged the best landscapes in each of the three sections of the city. We handed out plaques, and then we had an overall winner. It was a lot of fun,” adds Moore. “For our first competition of this kind, I was very pleased with the participation.”

For residents who take such pride in the landscaping of their own homes, there is an expectation that the city will take pride in the landscaping of public areas. Landscaping of Bexley’s public spaces is a group effort. “We [city employees] usually do the installations, and we have a contractor, Brickman Group, that handles much of the maintenance,” Moore explains.

At each of the city’s entry points, those coming in to Bexley are greeted with a consistent landscape of stone gates and impressive floral displays.

Floral displays are under the purview of Bexley’s Tree and Garden Commission. New installations are handled by the city crews and then turned over to the landscape contractor for maintenance. “We’ve been really improving our gateways over the last nine years, installing stone pillars, improving the landscaping. We’ve been looking for consistency in our hardscaping, as well as our floral displays,” says Moore. The uniform look is easier to achieve in newly built subdivisions or planned communities; the fact that Bexley has been around since 1887 makes uniformed landscaping more difficult—and all the more impressive.

“We’re just improving upon what’s already in place,” he points out. “This year we’re doing one of our southern gateways. We’ll install gateway pillars and a bed area with 15 Winter King hawthorns with a surround of arborvitae to welcome visitors.” The Tree and Public Gardens Commission and the Bexley in Bloom Committee take in an average of $70,000 in private donations every year, which is used for these improvements. “City dollars are not used for these projects; that lets city money be devoted to bigger picture things such as the parks,” Moore explains.

A crew plants trees on a boulevard in Bexley as part of the city’s Arbor Day activities.

Moore spends much of his time overseeing maintenance of Bexley’s 12,000 street trees, quite a number for a 2.5-square-mile city. “Usually, the first thing people notice when they come to Bexley is how big and impressive the trees are, because they’re so visible. I’ve had people tell me that when the fly out of the Columbus airport, they can’t even see the street lights in Bexley at night because the trees are so big.” The largest species in the city are red oaks, but there are 131 types of trees in the city’s urban forest.

Moore says that communication is the biggest key in building community involvement and support for landscaping and maintenance of public spaces. “You have to talk to the people. Whether it be in schools or through newspaper articles or fliers. This year, we’re putting together a community festival the week of Arbor Day with a ‘street tree walk.’ We’re also going to have school involvement, litter cleanups, you name it, and you have to constantly communicate what is going on.”

Most people want to live in an attractive city, so gaining support for landscaping improvements and invest­ments isn’t difficult as long as you tell residents what’s taking place. In Bexley, landscaping has become a tradition. “It’s an older city, and many of the residents have been here all their lives,” says Moore. “They take great community pride in what Bexley looks like. I think our heritage and community involvement were things that really stood out to the America in Bloom.”

America in Bloom is now in its eighth year. In 2008, more than 30 communities from around the country participated. The group’s Web site has detailed information about how to register, form a local “AIB Committee,” and get started. It’ll give you a chance to see how your community stacks up.

No matter which direction you look in Bexley, Ohio, pristine landscapes can be found. The city was awarded the American in Bloom competition’s Project Evergreen Landscaped Areas Award.

Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who has covered every aspect of the green industry in the past 13 years. He is based in Middlesex, Vt., and is always on the lookout for unusual stories.