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Flower power



The world of elite horse racing wouldn’t seem complete without flowers, and Saratoga does them up proud, from city street medians to secluded gardens.

At Yaddo, the artists’ retreat on Union Avenue south of the track, the formal gardens are open to
the public. The geometrically laid-out rose garden is charming, despite its concessions to the north-country climate: insecticide hang-tags on each rosebush, and borders of barberry instead of the classic boxwood. Yaddo also has a shady “wild” rock garden with ferns, astilbe, sedum, and, abruptly shattering any hint of naturalism, small potted water-lilies uniformly spaced in a ring-shaped fountain. In a similar vein of quirky artifice, take a gander at Saratoga’s floral calendar,
in a large bed at the Congress Park end of Union Avenue. Each night, workers tiptoe in, below
the large “Saratoga” of silvery dusty millers, and reposition red begonias to spell out the month
and date.

For a more customary floral experience, the Spa State Park entrance on Route 9 just south of town features large crescent-shaped beds closely planted in lovely swaths and clumps. Tall pastel cleomes, spikes of blue veronica and crimson celosia, and bright-yellow helianthus back up lower-growing sedums, sweet william, phlox, and other traditional favorites.

And all over downtown, visitors are greeted by a profusion of colorful annuals in lamppost baskets, median strips, and sidewalk berms—our tax dollars at work. Petunias and other flowers, spilling from overhead or densely massed on the ground around tree trunks, brighten up the sidewalk scene with fresh pinkish hues. Elsewhere, especially near the racetrack, traffic islands and medians sport dramatic, highly mounded displays, with candy-colored tulips in spring, and then with summer annuals: button marigolds or dusty millers around the perimeter, white and red impatiens or petunias inside them, and lush red canna lilies towering in the center. (Nearly every morning mini-tanker trucks and crews of young workers fan out around the city to douse the flower beds and baskets with fertilized water. No wilt, no mildew, no broken stems are left uncorrected.)

But Saratoga’s green thumb reaches deeper. In every neighborhood—not just at the mansions, where plantings are installed and maintained with detached precision by landscape crews—backyards, balconies, and porch-side urns teem with flowers. Trellises are smothered by old-fashioned rambling roses or climbing hydrangea, entire front yards are given over to perennials interspersed with stepping stones, rows of peonies lean on picket fences, and window boxes drip with tiny-flowered sweet alyssum and lobelia. On Church Street each summer, tenants of an upstairs apartment fill their small iron fire-escape with houseplants and dangling vinca vines. On Marvin, in front of a house with almost no yard, the curbside berm is a carefully tended dooryard garden, a grand riot of blossoms all summer long. And two neighbors on Myrtle have taken over their berm for an English-style herbaceous border packed with perennials of many colors, shapes, and textures.

With private citizens as flower-happy as the Public Works Department, it’s no wonder that the Beekman Street urban-renewal project included street flowers in its grant funding. That’s how central flowers are to Saratoga’s character. —SR