Petunia Pandemonium

MARQUETTE – It’s that time of year when the south entrance to Marquette bursts with color.

That will be the result of the 26th annual planting of Petunia Pandemonium, which takes place from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday on U.S. 41 South between Furnace and Jackson streets.

The Marquette Beautification and Restoration Committee sponsors this project, which has involved more than 12,500 volunteers.

“It’s a real grassroots project,” said Barb Kelly, project founder and chairwoman.

Kelly said volunteers are welcome to help at the Saturday planting of the flowers. A picnic lunch will be offered for all volunteers on the lawn of Family Wellness Chiropractic, located south of the Beef-A-Roo restaurant, which will serve complimentary ice cream cones for helpers. Hand-washing will be provided.

Students and staff from North Star Academy, Bothwell Middle School and Father Marquette Elementary School helped on the east side of U.S. 41 today.

Morgan Burnside, a sophomore at Marquette Alternative High School, planted flowers with other students this morning.

“It’s fun to do something for the community,” she said.

Tyler Hoevker, a junior at Marquette Alternative, said he’s been involved in horticulture for a long time.

“I grew up pretty much hanging out with my grandparents, doing this,” he said.

Kelly said more than 20 varieties of annuals will be planted in the mile-long entryway into the city, including the roundabout.

“Every year, I change it up a little bit,” Kelly said.

Petunia Pandemonium has received awards from Keep Michigan Beautiful Inc. and a Home Pride Award of $5,000 from Midwest Living magazine.

Kelly said the project is part of the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Adopt-A-Highway project, with committee members and children picking up litter on that stretch of road.

Petunia Pandemonium also has ecological value, she said.

“It does provide pollen for many different kinds of insects and flying creatures,” she said.

However, the event also has aesthetic value, especially in an area that once was all weeds, according to Kelly.

“It just kind of transformed the entryway to Marquette coming in from the south,” she said.

Visitors and residents now encounter a landscape more pleasing to the eye.

“It was pretty derelict, mostly run down, all those years ago,” Kelly said.

The committee has invested nearly $500,000 into the project, of which $100,000 went toward an irrigation system that waters the project area and grassy areas. The annual project cost is about $15,000.

The committee maintains the project areas from May through late October.

Volunteers plant more than 25,000 annuals in freshly prepared soil, with the flowers mulched, weeded, dead-headed, watered, fertilized and maintained until October, when they are pulled and composted.

Volunteers are asked to report to the picnic site before the start time Saturday to learn about possible planting sites. It’s recommended they bring a trowel and gloves, wear sunscreen and dress in old clothes and shoes. Plants already are positioned at flower beds, all of which have a plot captain who gives instructions.

Starting at 6 a.m., the southbound lane of South Front Street/U.S. 41 from Jackson to Furnace will be tapered down to one lane heading south for safety. All lanes are expected to be open to through traffic by 1 p.m.

Petunia Pandemonium is made possible through donations and support from the city of Marquette, Meister Greenhouses and local businesses, citizens and schools, in addition to the committee.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.