Many of us enjoyed the beauty and fragrance of the gorgeous flower beds along the Arnolds Park Promenade this past summer. From gorgeous purple alliums to white hydrangeas, the thousands of plants were cared for by crews of Plantin’ Posies, a local landscaping business.

Owner Erin Radcliffe keeps her crews busy beautifying the Iowa Great Lakes region every spring through fall. Along with caring for numerous Imagine Iowa Great Lakes landscaping projects, Plantin’ Posies has over 111 clients around the area.

“I love being outside in the fresh air and not behind a desk,” Radcliffe said. “It’s definitely not a glorious job. You get hot, dirty, wet and cold, but there is such joy working with plants, and I love meeting the people we help. The question is always ‘How can Plantin’ Posies positively impact the people we get calls from?’”

Formally a medical transcriptionist, Radcliffe’s love for the outdoors gradually turned a hobby into a full-fledge business. With much of her work brought about by word of mouth, this successful gardener has transformed her business from just herself in 2006 to 11 employees in 2020.

“Everything has happened by word of mouth, which has been such a blessing. You are working at someone’s house and their neighbor drives by and suddenly you go from one house to working at six homes in a development,” she shared.

Her company’s name came about in similar fashion. One of her first clients in 2006 was Jim and Margaret Cravens, Jim being the former chairman of United Community Bank.

“I would go and care for Margaret’s flowers and we’d have great conversations. Jim would come home from the bank and teasingly say, ‘There’s the crazy plant lady! Are you plantin’ poises today?’ In 2008, when my lawyer said your plants are no longer a hobby and you need to get real with a name, the first thing that came to my mind was ‘Plantin’ Posies,’” Radcliffe said.

Plants from Start to Finish
Plantin’ Posies handles everything from spring planting in pots and beds to watering, fertilizing, and maintaining perennial beds once a week. Her crews also provide spring and fall clean-up, including adding mulch and eliminating weeds. Radcliffe purchases the bulk of her flowers and plants from Ferguson’s Garden Center in Spirit Lake and many of her colorful geraniums come from a supplier in Sheldon.

“It is so nice to work with Ferguson’s, as I can call Bonnie or Barb while on a job and say I ran out of this or that,” Radcliffe said. “Ferguson’s does such a good job, and I love to walk in there during the spring to see all of the color and new plants! Chris and Renae are so nice to work with.”

During the spring, Radcliffe and her main employee Shannon Grau-Quail come prepared for all weather conditions.

“We have everything from mud boots to garden clogs in the vans. There’s rain pants, thermal pants and sunscreen,” she said. “At the beginning of the day, we are wearing wool socks and pants and ending the day in shorts. You have to be prepared for everything!”

With over 111 clients and three large Imagine Garden properties to maintain weekly, the two crews stay busy throughout the week. Radcliffe added her second van last year, and both her and Grau-Quail had three to four employees on their crews. Grau-Quail would start at Vick’s Corner and head south on Highway 86 on Monday and finish Thursday and Friday at the Promenade. Radcliffe’s crew would take care of clients in other locations, Lakeshore Drive and meander their way to the Promenade on Thursday and Friday.

“I have to stay very organized, as we water on certain days and fertilize on others,” she shared.

When designing floral pots for clients, Radcliffe always asks their favorite colors or what idea they’d like to share.

"While considering the importance of the Imagine IGL gardens, we knew we wanted to partner with someone who desired to ensure the gardens will continue to be a constant source of pride, relaxation, and enjoyment for the area’s residents and visitors.

The service Erin and her team at Plantin’ Posies has provided through the first season surpassed our expectations. Erin’s attention to detail, work ethic, and great attitude, coupled with her knowledge and experience are exactly what we were looking for. Erin is the ultimate team player and is always willing to dig in and work hard. We look forward to working with Erin and her team again this season and watching the gardens rebloom and come back to life!"

The Promenade, at Arnolds Park Amusement Park in Preservation Plaza, is one of busiest walking trails in the Iowa Great Lakes. The path leads to the lake and boardwalk and is adjacent to Preservation Plaza, a protected green space and outdoor concert venue.

Imagine took a walking path and created a unique nature walk filled with native Iowa plants and trees. This path includes nine lighted arches, 4,700 pavers, 3,953 annuals, 32,725 flower bulbs, 9,872 perennials, 313 shrubs, 57 trees and 10 benches. The landscape plan includes an assortment of flowers that bloom from spring until fall.
  - Michele Goodenow, Imagine Iowa Great Lakes Executive Director

“Everyone has an idea of what they might want or certain colors they like. We try to guide them into plants that we know will work well in certain locations or under our weather conditions,” Radcliffe explained. “For instance, in May, you think you may have full sun but then the trees fill in and suddenly there’s afternoon shade and you can plant different things.”

Radcliffe’s favorite flower is Dipladenia’s, which she said handles the hot sun and wind well, “You don’t have to water them a lot, as they can handle a little dry weather.”

In 2020, Plantin’ Posies worked every single day as the region didn’t receive a lot of extra rain. “I’m hoping for a little extra this year,” she said.

Maintaining Landscaping Projects
Radcliffe loves maintaining landscaping projects. Floral beds need to include some type of weed barrier, and if there isn’t one, she recommends sprinkling Preen through the soil in the spring. She also loves to use mulch but Preen needs to go down before the mulch is laid.

Last year, Radcliffe brought in 24 pallets of mulch to handle all their projects. She said every project must be maintained, and it’s important to keep plants cut back so they stay within a healthy growing range.

“If an area hasn’t been maintained for a while, it may be a wreck in the spring. We get rid of the weeds and start cutting back bushes, and by the fourth of July, everything is looking good,” she said. “We spot spray when we need to, otherwise it’s all manual labor. I do have to say I very much dislike grass in the flower beds, and it’s hard to get rid of and everything needs to be pulled.”

One of their floral beds they maintain has 500 gladiolus bulbs, and her crew will add a new batch every two weeks, so they come up at different points. She said last year a lot of summer residents came early to the region and left late from the Lakes, so it kept her crews busy planting and maintaining.

“In all of that, there is nothing better than working in the fresh air and the smell of lilacs on the trees,” Radcliffe said. “Just being outside is wonderful, and my favorite thing is opening up the first bag of mulch.”

She also enjoys educating her crews and the countless people who stop them along the Promenade, often asking questions about plants. “We make sure everyone knows what’s blooming and understands the plant, so they can answer people’s questions,” Radcliffe explained. “Like the Allium bulb, people wonder what these tall purple flowers are!”

Planting Pots
Radcliffe understand that many people enjoy planting their own pots. She recommends including mulch or rocks at the bottom of a pot to help with the drainage.

Her favorite potting soil is from Ferguson’s, as it includes fertilizer in it. After the flowers have been planted, she uses Osmocote, a slow- or time-release fertilizer that releases nutrients slowly over time, to deliver an ongoing supply of nutrients to the plants. The slow-release fertilizer is less likely to burn plants, when used according to label directions. In addition, Radcliffe uses a root stimulator after everything is planted, whether it is a perennial or an annual.

The next thing Radcliffe said to do is gently break up the roots out of the annuals before planting them. Her recommendation for creating a balanced looking container pot is including eye-catching “thriller” plants that are often tall or colorful, trailing “spiller” plants that eventually grown down over the pot, and then fill in the gaps with shorter “filler” plants.

“These pots gradually turn into a full, colorful arrangement that often becomes showstoppers,” she exclaimed. “Most of all, make the process fun - enjoy plantin’ your posies!”

If you’d like to contact Plantin’ Poises, visit their facebook page or by calling Radcliffe at 712-330-3776.