Residents gathered to plant thousands of flower bulbs on Oct. 24. | Photo provided

Amidst COVID-19 fatigue and fears for the future, a group of Forest Park residents are thinking ahead to spring, about beauty popping up even while the coat of winter might still cover the ground.

On Oct. 24, about two dozen residents gathered to plant 1,800 tulip bulbs and 3,300  grape hyacinth (muscari) bulbs in three corners of Thomas Avenue and Harvard Street; three corners and in the square planters next to Ed’s Way at Harvard Street and Beloit Avenue; and three corners of Beloit Avenue and Ferdinand Avenue.

According to Rob Sall, the group ended up with bulbs in about 24 of the corner planters on those three intersections.

Sall said for the previous few summers, he and his partner John Cunningham planted milkweed in several planters in town. When they saw a good deal on bulbs, inspiration hit. What if they got neighbors involved to plant bulbs and “add some life and color to the planters come spring?”

They talked to a few neighbors and posted in some local Facebook groups. The initial response was great, with residents and businesses offering to help cover the cost of the bulbs.

The contributions were so good, in fact, that Sall was able to purchase fertilizer for the soil, and there’s some money left over to buy other plants in the spring, when the tulips are done blooming, he said. He’s thinking native perennials, like coneflowers, Agastache, bee calm and cardinal flowers.

“All flowers that will bloom all summer and provide bees, butterflies and hummingbirds with tons of nectar. A sort of small natural prairie in the village,” said Sall.

Weather’s been tricky, so when the weekend looked sunny and dry, Sall posted to Facebook groups. He also printed about 300 half page flyers and walked the streets (and their dog), taping an informational sheet on houses and mailboxes.

Before starting the project, Sall reached out to John Doss, director of public works for the village.

“They were thrilled we wanted to do this and help take care of the planters,” Sall said. Doss talked to Village Administrator Tim Gillian and Commissioner Jessica Voogd, then coordinated the delivery of three loads of fresh dirt to help fill the planters and replace older soil that was dead or moldy.

Sall and Cunningham also approached resident Kristen Lyons, who helped coordinate and organize, determining which planters should be filled and “how to best maximize the bulbs we had for the project,” said Sall.

Residents had stepped up to help pay for the bulbs, and they stepped up again, with dozens showing up to help plant.

Sall and Cunningham moved to Forest Park in 2016. Both originally from small town Nebraska but living in the city for many years, Forest Park felt like going “back to our roots and the small-town vibe we grew up with,” Sall said.

They’ve fallen in love with the town.

“It’s fun to actually know your neighbors and meet new friends in the area while walking the dog or to/from the train to work. This project allowed us to give back to the community a little and get others involved in doing the same. When the planters became a community project, I think everyone took pride in them and the beauty they bring to the area.”

Sall said there’s a vibe in the village that people genuinely want to help each other, and this project was one way to bring people together to “build up and beautify this little village we call home.”

“Whether it’s this project, or the Brown Cow fundraiser that happened earlier this summer, I think the residents here want to help and be involved; they just aren’t always sure how or where or what to do. But they genuinely care about and want to make our little corner of Chicagoland the best there is.”