By SARA ARTHURS
Judges from America in Bloom, a nonprofit organization dedicated to beautification of communities, visited the University of Findlay on Thursday. And they liked what they saw.
Katy Moss Warner and Barbara Vincentsen traveled to Findlay as volunteers for the organization, which promotes nationwide beautification encouraging the use of flowers, plants, trees and other environmental and lifestyle enhancements.
Vincentsen said when she and Warner visit a university or town they are there to help, not just to judge. They often take a good idea they’ve seen in one community and recommend it to another community. In fact, the judges are obligated to make five recommendations in each of the six categories: floral display, landscaped areas, urban forestry, heritage preservation, environmental efforts and overall impression.
Warner said there are several judging teams. She and Vincentsen are assigned to communities with populations of 3,500 to 4,500. This figure refers to the university community and not the city of Findlay, which is not a participant in the America in Bloom program.
America in Bloom was first created in the United Kingdom after World War II, as a way to brighten up a war-torn environment. It spread throughout Europe and Canada and, in 2001, to the United States. It offers an awards program for cities, towns, townships, college and university campuses, business districts and military installations. It also offers mentoring and education. This year 33 towns and universities are being judged.
The University of Findlay received two 2013 national America in Bloom awards for outstanding achievement for environmental efforts and special mention for the its overall impression.
While on campus Thursday Warner and Vincentsen toured the university’s new hoop house, a student-run business where students grow vegetables and sell them on campus. Warner described it as a “very, very neat project.”
Warner said the hoop house might be an idea she would share with other communities, along with the university’s bicycle loan program.
“We saw fabulous flowers” on the University of Findlay campus, Warner said, adding that they were not only good flowers but among the “best presentation.”
“This is just a magnificent campus,” she said.
She was particularly taken by the fact that there are a lot of hanging baskets.
“We don’t normally see that on college campuses,” she said.
In addition, the varieties of flowers planted are among the best varieties developed by breeders, meaning they produce a lot of flowers and are disease-resistant, she said.
Susie Stratton, owner of Stratton Greenhouses in Bluffton, which provides flowers for the university, said helping to landscape the campus is “a wonderful experience.”
Warner said she had heard about the May incident when a private company accidentally spread weed killer instead of fertilizer, killing most of the campus’ grass.
She and Vincentsen expected to see brown lawns but Vincentsen said there was the “element of surprise” in that the lawns are now green again.
Warner said she has also enjoyed seeing the city of Findlay, as well as the university. She particularly admired the community’s hanging baskets and said she would encourage the city to get involved with America in Bloom.
Warner said America in Bloom is about quality of life in general, not just flowers, but she said flowers play a special role in landscaping.
“They’re the neon sign for the rest of the landscape,” she said.
In addition to touring the university, Warner gave a presentation Thursday night at the Hancock Historical Museum, looking at how a quality landscape is connected to a quality of life in a community.
She said it’s also an economic issue. In France, communities that have received awards from the French equivalent of America in Bloom will post signs on the highway and people will get off the highway to explore the town, because they know the town is going to be beautiful, she said.
In October, America in Bloom will hold its national symposium and awards ceremony in Philadelphia.
In selecting the University of Findlay for the awards last year, judges pointed out the efforts by the Findlay Green Campus Initiative, and noted the sensory and rain gardens on campus, as well as environmental efforts such as a recycling program, solar- and wind-powered residences, and geothermal heating and cooling at the Davis Street Building science addition.
In its application this year, the university quoted a September 2011 article in Travel & Leisure magazine: “If you ask a freshman why he chose his particular college, he’s likely to answer that he received a good financial aid package or thought the campus was beautiful.”
University officials wrote that the university has been working on the campus landscape for many years, noting that “Old Main,” the oldest building on campus, was originally in “an empty, muddy field” before the campus community planted 200 trees in 1890.
Each year the university’s physical plant crew meets with a representative from Stratton Greenhouses to develop a plan for the growing season.
The Findlay Green Campus Initiative was started in 2007 as a faculty, staff and student organization.
In addition to a bicycle lending and maintenance program, the Findlay Green Campus Initiative is also responsible for the creation and maintenance of the campus rain garden and a new sensory garden. The sensory garden, designed to be therapeutic for people with special needs, is meant to appeal to all five senses and provide soothing and relaxing stimuli.
The university also has two student houses powered largely by alternative energy.
Warner is president emeritus of the American Horticultural Society and has judged cities in the United States and internationally for America in Bloom since 2007. She was previously director of Disney’s horticulture and environmental initiatives at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
Vincentsen is owner of Vincentsen Associates, an architectural firm in Westfield, New Jersey. She is a licensed architect in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, and a licensed professional planner and certified interior designer in New Jersey.
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