DIXON – The Dixon in Bloom Committee continues to grow beautification efforts in the Petunia City.
The expanse of petunias was first seeded in 1960 to make up for lost trees due to Dutch elm disease, and in-ground plantings continued to around 2010 when a fungus put a stop to them.
The Dixon in Bloom Committee was formed in April 2011 with members of the Rock River Garden Club and the Dixon Area Garden Club to bring hanging petunia baskets to town.
They placed 20 total baskets along the Peoria and Galena Avenue bridges and then continued growing the petunia footprint each year, said Robin Canode and Shirley Vivian, Dixon in Bloom and Rock River Garden Club members.
“We just kept adding more and more,” Canode said.
Baskets of petunias are hung at locations including Galena Avenue, Peoria Avenue, First Street and a portion of Second Street, and plans are in the works to expand next year on East River Street from Galena to Ottawa avenues as well as on Galena near the Dixon Family YMCA.
That will put them at around 300 baskets with thousands of plants. It takes about $17,000 in donations a year to make it happen. They’d also like to get to a point where they can stretch more baskets down South Galena Avenue, but would need light poles and donations to do so.
The city donates water and labor to hang and water the plants, which have been grown at Nichols Greenhouse for the last half century.
Normally, the Rock River Garden Club donates a substantial amount through an annual fundraiser, but it was halted because of the coronavirus pandemic. On top of that, derecho storms that hit the Sauk Valley damaged all the baskets along the bridges, costing about $4,500 to replace.
They were uncertain how the year of donations would go, but the community stepped up with 190 donations.
“The community has been very, very supportive,” Vivian said.
They usually have seven or eight volunteers come together to fill the baskets, about 62 hours across three days, but Canode and Vivian did them all this year because of COVID-19 restrictions.
For them, it’s more than a hobby, and the work doesn’t stop once baskets are hung around town.
“We look at the petunias to see how they’re doing; we’re kind of obsessed,” Canode said.
“We weed here, pinch back there to make sure they look great,” Vivian added.
The work pays off.
“It’s a great feeling when you see or hear people appreciating them,” Vivian said. “People would say that the petunias make them happy, and it’s a sign of normalcy when things aren’t very normal.”
Another instrumental part of the group is Terry Nichols, former longtime owner of Nichols Greenhouse who has been active in the petunia plantings for decades. There are also many volunteers each year.
“It’s a tradition that the community has always gotten involved with,” Canode said. “It’s Dixon’s trademark.”
Beautification efforts don’t stop at petunias either.
They planted 500 daffodils for the Lee County Council on Aging, the Dixon Veterans Memorial Park, two areas along Lincoln Statue Drive and at City Hall.
“We’re hoping in the spring to have a blaze of yellow daffodils,” Canode said.
Another beautification goal is to have planters in the downtown area and in front of stores.”We really enjoy doing this; we like to see Dixon look good,” Vivian said.