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April 01, 2003   Email to Friend 

America In Bloom
Jeff Helms

Fairhope Public Works Director Jennifer Fidler checks tulips at one of the city's seven greenhouses.
Each year, travelers from throughout the Southeast flock to Fairhope, Ala., on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay to stroll along flower-lined streets and browse in unique shops. Recently, however, this Alabama treasure has attracted international attention thanks, in part, to a national beautification contest organized by the floriculture industry.

America in Bloom (AIB), which was modeled after Canada's successful Communities in Bloom program, promotes environmental stewardship, volunteerism and civic pride by honoring some of the nation's most beautiful communities. Last year, Fairhope not only won the 10,000 to 25,000 population category, it also received the highest total score of any city, regardless of size.

Fairhope Director of Public Works Jennifer Fidler said the city was asked to enter the contest after placing third in an international competition called "Nations in Bloom." Fidler said she had no idea Fairhope had won until the awards ceremony last October in Reston, Va.

"Being recognized as the best of the best gives us a lot of inner satisfaction," Fidler said. "Fairhope's beauty sets it apart from other cities. It's a distinguishing characteristic that people are really proud of. We don't spend money on advertising. People come here because it's beautiful, and people move here for the higher quality of life."

America in Bloom cities are judged on eight categories: tidiness, environmental stewardship, community involvement, heritage preservation, urban forestry, landscaped areas, floral displays and maintenance of turf and ground cover.

Fidler credits Fairhope Mayor Tim Kant for establishing the city's horticulture and urban forestry programs during his tenure as city horticulturist and public works director under the guidance of former mayor James P. Nix. Today, the most noticeable aspects of the city's horticulture program are the hundreds of flower boxes, landscaped beds and hanging pots that adorn city streets.

Fairhope completely changes its floral displays four times a year. Fidler said it takes about 25,000 6-inch pots to fill Fairhope's flowerbeds each season. Many of those plants are grown in the city's seven greenhouses, but some are purchased from local growers.

Brian Hardin, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation's Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod Division, said beautification programs like America in Bloom are good for Alabama agriculture because they encourage local governments to plant more flowers, trees, shrubs and turf.

"AIB is an excellent way to promote Alabama's greenhouse, nursery and sod industries. As people invest more in the beautification of their homes and communities, they are helping Alabama growers by purchasing their products," Hardin said. "When a community shows its pride through a well-managed landscape, it's contagious. It encourages others to want to do more. It reminds us how important shrubs, trees, flowers and turf are in making our environment attractive."

Fairhope's city planner, Christopher Baker, said the benefits of America in Bloom go far beyond supporting local agriculture or even beautification.

"There's a lot more to it than just how many flowers you put out or how much money you spend. It's a quality of life issue," he said. "Being selected as an America in Bloom winner is representative of proper planning, respect for the environment, community identity and volunteerism. It's how well a community strives and achieves to be a real city that has fabric and meaning--not just a pretty place."

In addition to maintaining its floral displays, Fairhope protects its ancient live oak trees through a city ordinance and volunteer efforts. The city also sweeps its streets three days a week and mows public green spaces once a week. Private organizations and individuals also have contributed money to plant trees along Highway 98 from Daphne to Fairhope, and volunteers regularly show up to help pull flowers when it's time to change the floral displays.

Other quality-of-life initiatives noted by the AIB judges include the city's voluntary recycling program, which has a 44 percent participation rate, and Fairhope's recent investment of more than $3 million to switch its waste treatment facility from a chemical process to one that uses ultraviolet light to kill bacteria.

These efforts and others earned Fairhope further recognition recently when the city was awarded one of three honorable mentions by the Environmental Protection Agency's Waste Wise program.

For more information about America In Bloom, visit www.americainbloom.org or call Hardin at 1-800-392-5705, ext. 4217. To learn more about Fairhope, visit the city's website at www.cofairhope.com .


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