Downtown Reno blossoms

I’ve had the opportunity to be downtown a few times lately, specifically in the Wingfield Park area. And once again, I’ve been reminded that the city hit a grand slam when it re-tooled the Truckee and created the river park. It’s now become a gleaming positive for Reno, an attraction that streamless cities like Vegas, L.A., or San Francisco will never be able to match. (In fact, I’ve a friend who lives in Telluride who saw the Wingfield zone last summer and was knocked out by it. If you’ve ever been there, you know that getting praise from a resident of that stunning little Colorado mountain town is above average praise indeed).

The prettiest thing about the river park these days is the colossal buckets of flowers that dangle all over the place, especially from the two Wingfield bridges. These are huge, gorgeous creations of top-notch eye candy that remind me of the summer flower displays that are so common in the cities and towns of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. While admiring them one afternoon, the light bulb in my head that flashes, “Column Meat!” began to fire. It’s a common tic in the thought process of all of us who are expected to crank something out on at least a weekly basis, so it was no surprise when mine got flicked on by these giant baskets of color.

The ostentatious super pots are the creations of Diane Stortz-Lintz, horticulturist for Reno’s parks. (Those showy flower beds at the corner of First and Riverside are another example of her work.) She told me that the stars of her big buckets are the trailing petunias, featuring two main hues—the pinks, a strain known as Bubble Gum, and the light lavenders, called Silver Tidal Wave. Yes, there are some lobelias, alyssum, and cat mint in the pots as well, but really, it’s a petunia show that floods your optic nerves as you gaze upon Diane’s handiwork.

The flowers germinate from seed in the city’s greenhouses in February, and the baskets usually come out and hit their hooks in May. Since petunias are pretty tough when it comes to mild frosts, they generally can shake it off if there’s that occasional dip to 30 degrees. There are 200 of these hanging flower pots in downtown Reno, each one being 30 to 50 inches in diameter. These days, in the peak of summer, it’s not easy to see the actual basket itself, since the petunias have spilled out and over and grown in every direction. Each pot gets a daily watering, by hand, and with each watering, there’s a mild splash of fertilizer—a two tablespoon dose of nitrogen for every 100 gallons of H2O.

The result is what you see now—a pleasing and enormous gob of flowers. Times 200. They’ll be around for eyeball-feasting for at least another two months. By mid-October, says Diane, nightly autumnal chills become regular, and Reno’s prime time flower show reaches its seasonal conclusion.