Volunteers hang 190 baskets of colorful delight

by: J. Brian Monihan, 
Mike Keeler and Annie Tenneson adjust a flower basket’s carabiner before it is raised to be hung.

One day they're absent, the next, they appear. For commuters who travel through Lake Oswego or work either downtown or in Lake Grove, the city's famed flower baskets seem to appear out of nowhere.

For 18 years the baskets have graced Lake Oswego's streets and, for many in the area, they are the true signal that summer is just around the corner.

Last Saturday, motorists unlucky enough to be awake and on the road at 6 a.m. may have witnessed the secret behind the baskets' seemingly instantaneous arrival.

It begins at 5 a.m. Two groups of volunteers - 60 people strong -gather bleary-eyed but eager to work. One gathers at Gubanc's Restaurant in Lake Grove and the other meets at the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce downtown.

Coffee and yogurt are provided for the early birds who are responsible for taking the plants off of the delivery trucks. The Garden Corner in Tualatin provides the baskets, which are set at the appropriate locations along State St., A Avenue, Boones Ferry Road and other thoroughfares.

This year, 190 plants were hung, featuring more than 30 varieties of plants. Petunias and geraniums among other plants make up the baskets, all in varying colors which, by the summer, will flow over their containers.

'There's an amazing variety this year and a lot of different masses which will be fun to watch as they grow. I think it would be fun to take a bunch of pictures and find the best basket of the year,' said Mike Buck, who has chaired the village basket committee for three years.

At 6 a.m., the second wave of volunteers begins its job. Groups of five individuals walk the streets where the baskets will be hung, carrying a ladder and wearing safety vests.

Two hold the ladder, two lift the basket, and one hangs it on the appropriate basket. It's not a bad workout, especially for a Saturday morning.

Many of the volunteers have been helping with the baskets for more than a decade and now, some children of original volunteers have joined in.

'We have had a lot more young people in the past few years, which is great to see. I think it's the volunteers' way of saying thank you to the city,' Buck said.

The groups finish hanging all 190 baskets in roughly an hour and a half, moving quickly along the sidewalks and, occasionally, into the medians.

But the pay-off is the ensuing breakfast at the chamber. Food and beverages are provided by Gubanc's, Chuck's Coffee, La Provence Bakery and Bistro and Speedy Linguini.

Although the actual hanging of the baskets only takes a few hours, the amount of work that goes into maintaining the baskets so that they reach their full potential, lasts much longer.

'These baskets are a source of pride and I think they make people feel good about living in Lake Oswego,' Buck said.

The baskets are watered each night, no matter the weather and, with current gas prices, it is estimated that each costs roughly $1.40 per day to keep up.

This year, organizers experimented with a new type of granule mixed in with the soil that is supposed to maintain more water. If it works as expected, it could drastically decrease maintenance costs in the future.

Those costs are covered entirely by donations from businesses and individuals. This year, the chamber hoped to raise $70,000 and, currently, that total has yet to be reached. More than 200 individual donors have contributed to the flower basket fund this year. Anyone who wishes to contribute can donate to the chamber foundation. For information, contact the chamber at 503-636-3634.

The baskets will be in bloom all summer long, blooming in full in August. Generally, the bloom lasts into October.