Those giant black flower pots, overflowing with bright pink petunias, makes downtown Detroit Lakes go pop in the summertime. But they don’t plant, grow and water themselves.

That takes greenbacks. About $33,000 worth last year. Most of that money comes from $500 donations from individual businesses in town. But a lot of stores are hurting after a year of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and a lot of those $500 donations have dried up.

So organizers are hoping that enough people will come forward this year with $25 (or more) donations to keep the downtown beautification effort pink and healthy.

“If everyone just gives a little, it would be great,” said Patty LaBarre, co-owner of ERA Northland Realty Co. downtown. She helped launch the beautication effort several years ago, and has been instrumental in keeping it going since.

Oversized pots of pink petunias outside the Detroit Lakes Pavilion. (Submitted photo March 25, 2001)
Oversized pots of pink petunias outside the Detroit Lakes Pavilion. (Submitted photo March 25, 2001)

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Detroit Lakes is celebrating its 150th birthday this year. “We have to put on the dog,” she said with a laugh, and she hopes everyone chips in a little to make the city pretty for the sesquicentennial celebration.

“If you’ve been looking and smelling and enjoying, consider giving,” LaBarre said. “If everybody could give 25 bucks, it would take the heat off the businesses this year. They’re already having a tough year.”

Donations can be dropped off or mailed to the ERA Realty office at 901 Washington Ave. or call LaBarre at 218-841-4854.

There are now about 100 oversized flower pots sprucing up downtown and West Lake Drive, she said. “Miraculously last year, with COVID and everything, we did increase our pot inventory,” she said. “Every year, the flowers have to be redone.”

Last year, an anonymous local resident came through with a big donation to save the pots with their Vista variety bright “bubblegum pink” super petunias, and the city also upped its game a bit, she said.

But it’s not a city program, and the downtown beautification effort languished a bit in its early years, thriving only after Bergen’s Greenhouse took over with “womb to the tomb” care, LaBarre said.

Bergens plants the flowers (they are growing inside the greenhouse right now), transplants them into the giant pots, brings them outside for short periods to make sure the flowers get acclimated, delivers the big pink bouquets to their summertime spots, waters them at least three times a week, and gives them tender loving care through September.

Having someone take ownership throughout the summer has made all the difference, LaBarre said.

“We water them and fertilize them all summer long, from Memorial Day to September or October, depending on the weather -- we don't want them to die,” said Mara Bergen. Bergens also handles Christmas pots as part of a smaller downtown beautification effort in the wintertime.

Patty LaBarre, left, and Mara Bergen, are out to keep up tradition of beautiful flowers in Detroit Lakes. (Nathan Bowe / Tribune)
Patty LaBarre, left, and Mara Bergen, are out to keep up tradition of beautiful flowers in Detroit Lakes. (Nathan Bowe / Tribune)

And LaBarre said the window boxes near La Barista restaurant downtown, and the murals and tile artwork displayed outside Mainstreet restaurant, are also part of the beautification effort.

“Aesthetics and art are the accessories to a beautiful town,” she said. “I don’t think the general public realizes how it comes about -- they think the city does it all … We’re trying to grow this thing. I just want us to be the coolest town ever.”