The Suitcase Lady


June 3, 2014, 10:40 pm

Good things can happen when people work together. In the case of Charlevoix, Michigan, a small town on the northeastern shore of Lake Michigan, a sensational thing has happened.

In 1982, a town meeting was held to brainstorm ideas for making the town more attractive. Mundane ideas were suggested until Dale Boss, a retired milkman, brought up his idea. He suggested that five miles of petunias be planted between the curb and the terrace grass all along the length of US 31 which runs through the town.

His idea brings to mind a quote from Daniel Burnham, the great architect and Director of Works for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood…”

Apparently blood was stirred as five miles of narrow beds were dug, filled with good soil and fertilized. Volunteer crews planted thousands of petunias, and Mr. Boss in a watering truck gave the plants a drink every morning starting at 4:00 AM.

Fast forward thirty years to 2013 and Operation Petunia as it is called had its thirtieth anniversary. The beds have been widened, the petunias are up to 62,000 (1,200 flats) and the community is on its fourth watering truck. Mr. Boss still gets up at 3:45 AM to water the blooms seven days a week…..except if there has been rain.

Last Thursday, May 29, 2014, we were heading into Charlevoix at 11:00 AM. When we hit the northern edge of town, NO PETUNIAS were in sight as in past years. There were cultivated beds with perfectly evenly spaced holes in them. The empty beds spanned the entire town.

We continued on our road trip, petunia-less, to Traverse City, Interlochen and Lake Michigan enjoying the blossoming fruit orchards and tidy vineyards. By seven in the evening, we were again approaching Charlevoix on our way back north. We could hardly believe our eyes. The petunias were all in place, all five, perky, colorful miles of them. And then we saw the banner that read:
The planting had been delayed a week due to an extremely late spring. 800 plus volunteers had put all the petunias in the ground. And to top it all off, we saw the watering truck coming down the road, spraying the newly planted flowers as it went.

We circled back and followed it for a while. Teamwork can work wonders.


4 Comments for this entry

  • Karen Little on Facebook

    Wow! Great story! And we do love that area! Next story should be about Michigan’s sour cherry pies and all the festivals that honor them . . .

  • Linda Haack

    We were delightfully surprised going through Charlevoix last summer. It was amazing. We were there on one of the “weeding days” when the volunteers returned to work on the beds. Small town America at its best!

  • Max Tooley

    Wow! San Diego has few places where beautiful plants and flowers grow. most yards i see are only plain grass. The ones i do see though are very pretty. I see desert plants sometimes with pretty rocks around them.

  • Mary

    Max….I love the desert plants,too. The
    trick is to plant the plants that like the habitat you live in. The petunias need lots of water, something that is in short supply in San Diego!