KK’s Glorious Flower Baskets

September 1, 2017

By Sheila Julson

This summer Kinnickinnic Avenue from Morgan Avenue to Becher Street was again beautified with bountiful hanging baskets. A project of the Kinnickinnic Avenue Business Improvement District (BID), the basket arrangements will be displayed through September or mid-October, weather permitting.

The more successful of the baskets that bedeck Kinnickinnic Avenue are planted with Supertunia Vista Bubblegum, a bright pink petunia, and Supertunia Vista Silverberry petunias, typically white with pink accents. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

This was the second year that Custom Grown Greenhouses (4507 S. Sixth St.) created the baskets for the KK BID.

“We’re really pleased with the beauty of the baskets,” said Mary Ellen O’Donnell, BID board member and chair of its streetscape committee. We continued the contract with them this year and didn’t go out to bid because we were so happy with them last year.”

O’Donnell said this year they deferred to Custom Grown owner Paul Budzisz and his team, allowing them to select the flowers, whereas, in previous years, she and other BID members helped select them. Each basket is a little different and is planted with varieties of petunias, dragon lady begonias, sweet potatoes, lantana, and Carlina, among others.

Custom Grown handled all aspects of the project. They selected the flowers, planted the baskets, placed them on the brackets, watered them, and will remove them at the end of the season. The baskets are saved for reuse by the BID, O’Donnell said.

The 2017 budget for the project was $9,000. “There were high watering costs last year, so what we did was up-the-budget a bit to accommodate that,” O’Donnell said. “But we’re on track to be a little under budget this year.” There are about 58 baskets, she noted.

Budzisz has owned Custom Grown Greenhouses since 1988. “This year, they (BID) let me do my own thing to see what works best and what doesn’t,” he said. “There are some combinations where maybe we can cut down on the watering, and we also want to see people’s reactions (to the plant choices and designs).”

The more successful baskets are planted with Supertunia Vista Bubblegum, a bright pink petunia, and Supertunia Vista Silverberry petunias, typically white with pink accents. Neither requires deadheading and both are drought resistant. “They perform the best and most baskets with those turned out very well,” Budzisz said.

Some of the other baskets include Dragon Wing begonias with yellow sweet potato vines, lantana, and pink begonias. Budzisz is particularly pleased with the results of the baskets near the Immaculate Conception church on the corner of Kinnickinnic and Russell avenues. Those baskets hold begonias, Carlina, a white cascading plant, purple petunias, and blue ivy. They have grown successfully and Budzisz has heard good feedback from passers-by when he watered the baskets.

Custom Grown Greenhouses owner Paul Budzisz and employee Claire Raasch try to incorporate plants that don’t need much maintenance when designing their hanging baskets. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

Budzisz, along with employee Claire Raasch, who has been at Custom Grown for 25 years, tries to incorporate plants that don’t need much maintenance.

Challenges like inclement weather and vandalism have been minimal. “We might have to touch them up occasionally,” he said, “but the only thing that happened was last year, when a basket fell. The hanger broke and the basket was lying on the ground. We think it was because last year’s sweet potato vines grew to where they nearly touched the ground and they got caught on something or had been tugged. This year’s vines don’t grow that long.”

Custom Grown works with other municipalities including Whitefish Bay, Wauwatosa, and Germantown, providing and caring for flowers and other plants. While much of their business is retail, they also grow plants for the Wisconsin State Fair Park grounds and for the Milwaukee County Zoo.

More color on KK

In addition to the hanging baskets, the KK BID also maintains the Art Stop site north of the KK/Howell/Lincoln avenues intersection and about six concrete planters owned by the BID, located in the vicinity of KK and Lincoln. O’Donnell said they were purchased and installed by a former, now defunct Bay View business association.

“Not every business was (using) the planters in front of their businesses,” said O’Donnell. The BID let businesses that wanted to use its planters continue doing so. For those who did not, the BID took them over. The BID added an additional planter at the south end of KK in front of Rusty
Sprocket Antiques.

PHOTO Katherine Keller

Additionally, Custom Grown provided the plants at the base of the new gateway signs on KK at Morgan Avenue and at Bay Street. The Becher sign was installed on an existing landscaped mound that is maintained by the city, O’Donnell said.

The sign just south of Morgan Park was installed on a barren island. “We wanted to put some nice landscaping around that sign, so we purchased planting materials from Custom Grown for both locations, as well as for Art Stop,” O’Donnell said. The BID contracted Curative Care, a nonprofit that hires people with disabilities. “They have a landscaping team as one of the services they provide. We were really excited about working with the organization. They planted at the two sign locations, as well as on the bare areas of the Art Stop. Custom Grown is doing the watering until the plants are established. Curative Care is handling the weeding and cleaning.”

Budzisz credits projects like KK BID baskets for promoting gardening and encouraging people to add more beauty and color to their properties. He said he hopes the trend continues to catch on with individuals and businesses.

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