Blue Fall River paint hydrangea project

FALL RIVER — The Hydrangea Beautification Program is taking firm root in Fall River as more hydrangeas bloom around town and paint the landscape blue.

Begun three years ago as a collaborative effort between Creative Arts Network Inc., the city, People Incorporated and others, these strategic plantings reflect the city’s close ties to the Azores, where hydrangeas with Bright colors adorn the roadside.

The idea is to plant colorful flowering shrubs in riverfront and downtown areas, possibly adding to other neighborhoods.

“This is a great project for the city of Fall River, just look around the Government Center or here on Old Second Street, how much better it is with these hydrangeas. It means a lot to the city and it makes us look better,” Mayor Paul Coogan said at a press conference on Friday, June 24, to announce that June 25, 2022 would once again be proclaimed “Hydrangea Day” in the town of Rivière d’Automne.

Mayor Paul Coogan reads proclamation declaring June 25, 2022 as "hydrangea day" in the town of Fall River at a June 24 press conference on Old Second Street.

Reading the proclamation, the mayor stressed that “a clean and attractive city is an asset for economic development, improves the quality of life and enhances the visitor experience”.

As part of this civic project, there are already hydrangeas in the grounds of Battleship Cove, around City Hall, in parts of South Main Street and Old Second Street, and outside some businesses.

The goal for this year is to also plant hydrangeas on the greens at the Route 195 Connector and Water Street, which will be part of a small greenspace creation area. These two specific ventures will be accomplished through a collaborative effort with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and Mass Coastal Railroad, according to Creative Arts Network Associate Director of Development Dave Dennis.

Creative Arts Network Associate Director of Development Dave Dennis shows the proclamation declaring June 25, 2022 as "hydrangea day" in the town of Fall River.

“It was an embellishment [project] as well as connectivity, connecting downtown and our waterfront,” Dennis said, noting that the waterfront is especially important now that the Massachusetts Cultural Council has voted to approve the Commonwealth’s 50th Designated Cultural District on the waterfront at Fall River, known as The Fall River Waterfront Cultural District.

Sandy Dennis, director of marketing and public relations for the Creative Arts Network, said a lot of work has been done with Commonwealth stakeholders, businesses, organizations, the City of Fall River and neighborhood groups.

“This week we planted 70 hydrangeas, with more to come,” said Sandy Dennis.

Creative Arts Network Director of Marketing and Public Relations Sandy Dennis previews the Hortensia beautification project at the press conference announcing June 25, 2022 as "hydrangea day" in the town of Fall River.

She noted that one of the key players in the project from the start was People Incorporated.

“They have been extremely generous in funding plantations in this area,” she said. “They have taken the lead and they will be co-sponsors of the Rt. 195 area.

Representing People Incorporated, public relations manager Peter Daily said his organization offers many programs and services, but one thing they really try to focus on is being a good community partner.

People Incorporated Public Relations Director Peter Daily delivers remarks at the Hydrangea Beautification Project press conference on June 24.

“This is a great opportunity for People Incorporated to get involved in the city, but also to beautify the city,” he said. “I’m lucky to be here representing People Incorporated, but to be honest, it’s the people in our programs who literally get their hands dirty and help plant and tend the flowers.”

In 2018, the city council voted to make hydrangeas the ornamental flower for the town of Fall River.

“It’s a great day for the city,” Fall River Councilman Andrew Raposo said after the news conference. “There’s a lot of positive momentum going on here in the city.”

He said that this project had a special meaning for him.

“As a generational Portuguese, my parents being both Portuguese and my father having immigrated from the Azores, it is special for me to know that we are celebrating Portuguese culture and also helping the city at the same time. So, I proud of that,” he said. “This is another example of the great things the Town of Fall River does in partnership with our community partners. I couldn’t be prouder of the town in which I live and where I come from.

How did the Hortensia Project come about?

Hortensia is the Latin and Portuguese word for hydrangea.

Historians believe that hydrangeas came to the United States thanks to immigrants from the Azores in the mid-1900s.

David LaLima trims one of the hydrangeas adorning Old Second Street in Fall River.

A few years ago, Westport resident David LaLima took a trip to the Azores that planted a seed in his mind that eventually led to the Hortensia Project.

“I fell in love with the Azores; it was breathtaking and spectacular,” said Lalima, a retired regional councilor for the Western Massachusetts Department of Social Services, who loves to garden.

But something puzzled him.

He found it strange that despite the large number of Azoreans living in Fall River, there were no hydrangeas in public places.

“It struck me as unique and disheartening that there was no display of these beautiful flowers in a town full of Azoreans,” he said. “So I pitched and conceptualized the idea that we should bring these hydrangeas to town.”

He eventually contacted David and Sandy Dennis and hydrangea specialist Mal Condon, curator of hydrangeas at Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich.

With a group of volunteers coordinated by Creative Arts Network, they began exploring the possibility of establishing a hydrangea beautification program in Fall River. The conversation included identifying locations for plantations, establishing the city’s links with Portugal, and solving the problem of connectivity with the waterfront and the city center.

“It’s a very humbling experience to turn an idea into reality,” LaLima said. “It took a lot of divergent people to make that happen.”

Thanks to the generous donations of several community partners, the Hortensia beautification project recently acquired a golf cart equipped with a water tank to water the hydrangeas scattered throughout the city.

One of the challenges was figuring out how to care for hydrangeas during the winter months, as low winter temperatures can kill the plant.

The solution: put the hydrangeas in pots and protect them at the Albernaz nursery until mid-April.

” It’s a lot of work; every year we lose some,” LaLima said. “We finally decided that after this year we had to put them in the ground because the roots would get bigger in the ground.”

Another challenge is watering the plants, as hydrangeas need more water than most garden plants and will begin to wilt quickly without it.

“Originally we did it by hand and we realized very quickly that it wasn’t very efficient and it didn’t work too well,” explained Dave Dennis.

As a result, Team Hortensia sought out community sponsors to purchase a golf cart with a water tank in the back.

“We thank the Rotary Club, the Kiwanis Club and J. Marshall and Associates for helping us finance the purchase of our golf cart to be able to water our hydrangeas. It was a big help,” he said.

LaLima said there has been an incredible outpouring of love and interest in the project.

“We went from an idea, with the help of many, to something that gave people civic pride and something to look forward to,” he said. “My goal would be to have hydrangeas from the Braga bridge to here (downtown), on either side of the hill. something happens”.

For more information on the Hortensia Project, visit http://creativeartsnetwork.org/history/

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