City in bloom: Meet the Wichita woman whose vision launched Flowers on Douglas
Cindy Carnahan is the force behind Flowers on Douglas, a public-private partnership responsible for hundreds of planters and hanging baskets along Wichita's downtown thoroughfare.
About four years ago, Cindy Carnahan stepped out of a music theater performance at Century II and had a thought.
She called up Jeff Fluhr, president of the Greater Wichita Partnership, and shared her vision.
“I said, 'You know, what we need is flowers downtown,' ” Carnahan recalls. “And he said, ‘Well, as luck would have it, the city has purchased 112 pots to be placed on Douglas Avenue, and now I guess they belong to you.' ”
Since then, Carnahan’s Flowers on Douglas initiative has taken off and brightened the downtown landscape. In addition to the collection of concrete planters that stretch from Main Street to Washington, there are 112 hanging baskets — a donation from the business group Women of Wichita — that drip waterfalls of colorful vinca blossoms from the light posts.
Carnahan, president of the real estate company Carnahan Group ReeceNichols, assembled a team of local landscapers, plant nurseries and master gardeners to fill and maintain the planters.
Every spring — once in mid-March and again in mid-May — volunteers spend a Saturday planting thousands of flowers, which are specially selected for the city landscape. Pots along the south side of Douglas need shade-friendly plants because downtown buildings block the light. Other pots bake in the sun or have to withstand high winds from the constant traffic.
“We didn’t account for how much wind is downtown between those buildings,” Carnahan said. “So now we understand, and there’s a lot of plant material that can’t survive that kind of wind.”
The pots feature bright spring colors mixed with shades of green — pink petunias, red begonias, trailing aquamarine pilea and chenille plants with blossoms that look like fuzzy caterpillars.
“If you walk down the street and you really look at each planter, you’ll realize each one is just a little work of art,” Carnahan said.
The initiative takes time, effort and money. And lots of water.
Crews from Hein Lawn & Landscape maintain the flowers from late spring through early fall. They start about 5 a.m. each day, using an all-terrain vehicle affixed with a 150-gallon tank and a water wand. Depending on rainfall, they use up to 900 gallons a day to keep all the planters and hanging baskets watered and fertilized.
Unfortunately, they also have to deal with theft and vandalism. Over the years, some of the plants have disappeared in the night. Carnahan said she’s seen people sitting in the planters to pose for photographs, which damages the delicate blooms.
“One day the pot is beautiful and full, and the next day you arrive to find someone has stolen the centerpiece of the pot or some of the annuals,” she said.
“Now everyone … has been deputized to watch,” she said. “Please help us to tell people, ‘Please don’t touch the flowers.’”
Since launching the initiative in 2017, Carnahan has raised about $357,000 to keep it growing. The City of Wichita provides the water, and Downtown Wichita oversees the ongoing maintenance, which is paid for by downtown property owners and private donations.
Visit www.flowersondouglas.org for donation information.
“I would like the whole city of Wichita to be involved in this project in some way,” she said. “Whether it’s $5 or $500. Every little bit helps.”
This coming winter, Carnahan is planning a new collection of holiday baskets filled with evergreens and pine cones.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were know for the city that has flowers throughout our downtown, into Old Town, into Delano?” she said. “It just would be a wonderful thing.”