VALPARAISO — When Steve Martinson opened the door of one of the city's greenhouses recently, the fresh floral scent of pansies smack the senses.

The pansies, some 4,000 of them in colors ranging from purple to deep orange, will be planted in the coming week on city-owned property, from downtown to roundabouts, in planters and along highways.

Their place in the greenhouses at the parks department's Horticultural Center on Campbell Road will be replaced quickly with thousands more summer annuals, which will grow to maturity before they, too, are planted for residents and visitors to enjoy just before Memorial Day in late May.

The spring and summer planting seasons are busy times, said Martinson, superintendent of the department's horticultural division, but the plans for the seasons' plantings actually start the September before.

"Every September we spit ball what we want to grow," Martinson said. They make charts, attend a conference to get a glimpse of the newest varieties and by October Martinson is ordering plant material, both seeds and plugs, for next year's plantings.

"We try to mix it up every year. This year there will be no marigolds," Martinson said.

Paul Chen, the division's assistant superintendent, is in charge of Ogden Gardens.

"You try to have unique plants that you don't commonly see in the garden. You want to bring in something unique, new and fresh," Chen said.

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Altogether, they plant 900 flats of flowers, at 18 plants a flat or more than 16,000 individual plants.

"When I started, the city bought 100 flats and thought they were doing good," said Martinson, who has worked for Valparaiso about 33 years.

The job of the horticultural division crew of five full-time employees and three or four seasonal workers, got easier last year when the group moved from their old headquarters adjacent to the golf maintenance building on Harrison Street to the new facility, a former stone yard.

Martinson said employees did most of the work to transform the center, renovating a building into an office, workshop and garage and putting up the two greenhouses, parts of which were salvaged from a former commercial nursery. The cost, he said, was about $312,000.

That includes the "head house," Martinson said, where they do a lot of planting and transplanting of plugs and seedlings. It will be the site of a "transplant party" April 8, when volunteers transplant plugs of annuals into flats so they can continue their growth.

In addition to growing and planting flowers, the division takes care of all city-owned landscape features, including the roundabouts and along a portion of U.S. 30 and Ind. 49. They also take care of an informal arboretum filled with native trees, work to eradicate invasive species and do their "voodoo" that keeps the turf at Central Park Plaza thick and green.

The new center, Martinson said, allows the department to grow more plants from seed or plugs, ultimately saving the city money. It costs about half to grow the materials themselves than it would cost to get from a nursery. It also allows them to properly store plants and trees properly.

The facility also includes an up-to-date climate control system, automatic fertilization system and room for outdoor and indoor storage of materials.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.