Plant a sense of pride in the community. Collaborate to create a more vibrant, attractive, sustainable environment that drives the economy and encourages residents to engage with each other, and the outdoors.
That’s the goal of America in Bloom, and the town of Holliston, Mass., has embraced this vision as an award-winner, also earning a special honor for the best volunteer recognition program. Holliston adopted the AIB program two years ago when two horticulture-minded residents and Mark Ahronian, president of Ahronian Landscaping & Design, launched the effort in town.
Mary Greendale, who has an agricultural background, and retired postal worker and gardener Bobby Blair approached Ahronian about co-chairing the Holliston in Bloom committee. Ahronian, who grew up in the city and has run his business there for 27 years, offered his enthusiastic support.
“America in Bloom is not just about flowers, it’s about community, and uniting people for a cause, and accomplishing goals that help the entire city,” Ahronian says. “It creates more of an appreciation and value for what we do as an industry,” he adds, noting that the town learns how to better mitigate issues like soil erosion and runoff. Meanwhile, residents take ownership in creating vibrant spaces around town, and businesses and local organizations back beautification efforts with funding, time and labor
. “We all want to have a healthier community where people are engaged and shop locally. We feel more part of the town," Ahronian says.
The visible impact of AIB is evident when you enter town and are greeted by elegant signage: Welcome to Holliston. The Holliston Lions Club donated funds for the first new sign in 2012 and last year, the town added two more signs, gaining support again from the Lions, and also Celebrate Holliston.
The snowball effect of community involvement continued as AIB efforts grew. Last year, Holliston cleaned up an eyesore next to its “rail trail” and transformed it into a park named after Bobby Blair with a gazebo where local concerts are held.
“It was town land that was beat up with broken tree branches and junk. It was an eyesore,” Ahronian says. “Now, it is this beautiful area that people can go sit. You see residents walking along the rail trail through Blair Park. It’s just amazing.”
AIB judges communities on the upkeep of its park spaces, overall appearance of the town and land conservancy, Ahronian says. Landscaping and flowers are just as important as giving a nod to the local heritage.
In Holliston, the centuries-old town hall benefited from a functional, “age-appropriate” enhancement when the AIB committee laid plans to create three new granite steps from the building’s side door, a new brick pathway and patio space with gardens and furniture. The project made traversing the parking lot to reach the town hall safer, and created a gathering space for locals.
The town hall project exemplified AIB’s collaborative vision. The highway department donated granite and labor to prepare the grounds. Ahronian's crews installed the steps and patio. The town’s garden club, Holliston in Bloom committee and Holliston Marigold Fund committee donated plants, time and labor to install new gardens in the patio space. A local construction company donated money to purchase new furniture.
“By collaborating and breaking down the project into smaller pieces, it became a community event,” Ahronian says.
Now, people in town can meet at the patio space outside of town hall. They can enjoy a lunch outdoors, park safely in the lot and walk downtown to enjoy the local shops.
The program is spreading a desire to contribute and there is plenty to do. Everyone pitches in, from the local organizations to the parks department and businesses. “What I see is this unbelievable uniting of people and positive energy,” Ahronian says.
Holliston will share this energy with the country when it hosts the 2017 AIB Symposium. “Everyone really steps up to help make this town look special," Ahronian says.
The author is a freelance writer in Bay Village, Ohio.