John Cunningham, top, and Rob Sali, both of Forest Park, stand for a photo together at the Harvard intersection they decorated for the Fall on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Forest Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

But I’m only one person.  What can I do when the problems in the world are so great?

Two Forest Park residents, John Cunningham and Rob Sall, know very well that the flowers they planted at three intersection in Forest Park won’t create world peace, but they also know that they’ve created beauty in their little corner of the world as well helping out a whole lot of butterflies.

Here’s the story.  Cunningham and Sall moved to Forest Park in December 2016 and noticed that the planters at three intersections — Harvard and Thomas, Harvard and Beloit and Harvard and Ferdinand — were not being fully utilized.  So, they contacted John Doss, Forest Park’s public works chief at the time, to get permission to plant milkweed in some of the planters, and Doss gave his blessing to the project.

“Milkweed, as many know, is a host plant for the monarch butterfly and we soon found that we had lots of caterpillars enjoying our new plants,” said Cunningham.

The decorations are seen at the Harvard intersection on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Forest Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

In the summer of 2019 they put more milkweed in the planters at Beloit and Harvard and at Thomas and Harvard.  They also added marigolds which they hoped would control aphids.  “We had limited success with controlling the aphids,” Cunningham recalled, “but we did add some color.”

It was last fall, however, that the “seeds” they had planted really began to bloom.  They bought a couple bags of spring bulbs to plant at the corner of Beloit and Harvard and came up with the idea of posting their project on a few community pages on Facebook.  The result was receiving enough money in donations to buy 1,800 tulip and 3,600 muscari (grape hyacinth) bulbs. 

Then on the third Saturday of October of 2020, 24 people from the community showed up for a planting event.  “The result,” Cunningham said with enthusiasm, “was the dazzling display this past April which was well received by the neighborhood.”

“Capitalizing on this success,” he said, “we decided to raise more money to buy additional bulbs for the Spring of 2022 and perennial plants to plant immediately for the summer months of 2021.”

Through that fundraising the two residents with green thumbs were able to purchase 1,300 more bulbs — tulips, muscari, crocus, daffodils, hyacinth and late blooming iris and 113 flowering perennials including coneflower, agastache, coreopsis, beebalm and salvia plants.   In addition, they grew from seed about 100 plants of coneflower, beebalm, parsley, fennel, California Gian Zinnias, and indigo to supplement the larger plants in the beds. 

A total of 21 planters at the three intersections now have flowers.  As the season was winding down, they thought it would be cool to put up a fall display which was sourced for the most part from a farmer near Pontiac.

When Cunningham and Sall were asked why they invested so much of their time in growing flowers in public spaces, they gave three answers.  First, they said they were providing an aesthetically pleasing addition to their neighborhood.

Second, they were providing a food source for “wildlife.”  The milkweed is a host plant for the monarch butterfly, the fennel and parsley are host plants for the black swallowtail butterfly, the coneflowers and zinnia’s spent flowerheads provide seed for goldfinches and other seed eating birds, rabbits have found a safe place to hide, and all the flowers have been providing pollen and nectar for bees all summer long.  

And finally they said, “We both believe in doing the small things to help make our community a better place for everyone.”