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Flower baskets blooming in downtown Bellingham

From May to October this program seeks to bring color to the city's most popular streets

A flower basket arranged by Green Frog Nursery hangs from a streetlight outside Sweet as Waffles in Bellingham, Wash., on May 3, 2024. The Flower Basket program by the Downtown Bellingham Partnership hangs 44 flower baskets around downtown to revitalize the community. // Photo by Ronan Lynch

Every morning, Kenny Austin from the Downtown Bellingham Partnership heads out with a ladder and a watering can. He tends to the 44 flower baskets that line the most popular streets, such as Cornwall Avenue and Railroad Avenue, as part of the nonprofit’s mission to enhance the beauty and color of downtown Bellingham.

From May to October, flower baskets provided by the Green Frog Nursery are hung from street lights to create a more inviting environment for some of Bellingham’s busiest walkways.

“There’s a sense of safety people feel when there’s healthy plant life, it counters what people might find unsafe or unsavory downtown,” Austin said. For four years, he has been the landscaping and maintenance supervisor for the Downtown Bellingham Partnership.

“The business owners see the effect the baskets have on people and they wanna be a part of it,” Austin said. “They want baskets out front of their businesses as well.” 

The beautiful flowers enhance the warming environment of downtown Bellingham, with the smell of petunias mixing with the freshly made waffles on Railroad Avenue.

“[The flower baskets] increase their experience in that day and then they're going to remember that being a part of that experience,” Graham Berkwitt, co-owner of Sweet as Waffles, said about customers. The baskets make downtown Bellingham look more alive, bright and pretty. 

Beautifying downtown Bellingham isn’t a recent development, according to Nicholas Zaferatos, a professor of urban planning at Western Washington University. There was an important pushback in the 1980s to beautify the downtown area. 

“The mall came and everything vanished and downtown just became a graveyard for a really long time,” Zaferatos said. 

At the end of the 1980s, there was a controversial proposal by the city of Bellingham to build the Bellis Fair Mall, Zaferatos said. This caused larger retailers like JCPenny and Sears to migrate to the mall and leave the downtown area.

“Groups like the [Downtown Bellingham Partnership] are important because they work real closely with the businesses to revive all of that activity,” Zaferatos said. Flowers and additions during the 1980s like street plantings and sidewalk improvements, benefit public health and safety downtown.

Each flower basket costs $86, and most of the funding for the flower basket program is provided by donations, Austin said. 

“Before we used to cover the cost of it a lot, but people love our program so much that we do a spring or late winter fundraiser and we got enough money from businesses, downtown residences and people that want to see more baskets,” Austin said.

The Downtown Bellingham Partnership has set up a donation page on their website. For $75, you can adopt a flower basket and add a little color and vibrancy to the busy streets. If you adopt, the website also lists your name in their May newsletter.

“Overall, I’m just excited to have [flowers] near the buildings again and just plants in general,” Berkwitt said. “Especially in the summer, it creates a better vibe … people will see it and it’ll make them happy and make them want to continue to come downtown.”

Ronan Lynch

Ronan Lynch (he/him) is a third-year visual journalism major who enjoys hiking and thrifting. You can usually find him at the gym or you can reach him at

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