When the largest flower box in Neosho, Mo., needs weeding, Troy Treece, the town’s gardener, pulls on his gloves and boots—and climbs inside.
Last April, people in the southwest Missouri town went daisy crazy and planted the world’s largest flower box in a 66-foot-long railroad gondola car. The 8-foot-wide hometown bouquet sprouts periwinkles, geraniums, marigolds, heather, zinnias, boxwoods, crepe myrtle, and a dozen other blooming varieties.
“I think it’s just beautiful. The town takes a lot of pride in it,” says Pete Williams, one of about 250 residents who showed up on “Bag of Dirt Day” with donated dirt and compost for the giant planter. The retired carpenter also built and gave away 125 mini flower boxes to families that day.
Neosho’s fame as “The Flower Box City” took root in 1955 when the town applied for and received a $5,000 grant from The New York Community Trust for a civic beautification project. Local companies provided lumber at cost, and Junior Chamber of Commerce members formed an assembly line to build more than 200 wooden flower boxes. Pet Milk Co. donated 400 used, wooden barrels for container gardens, and town nurseries supplied plants at reduced rates. The town even gussied up trash cans and parking meters around the square with flower baskets.
The all-out blooming effort earned Neosho a coveted All-America City Award from Look magazine and the National Municipal League in 1957—and the Flower Box Promotion Committee has supported beautification ever since, awarding “Beauty Spot” prizes each spring and summer to homes and businesses with petal pizzazz.
As a result, roses, morning glories, and irises are commonplace in Neosho (pop. 10,505). Flowering planters fringe nearly every storefront, and some businesses—such as Community Bank & Trust—still use the 1950s wrought iron boxes placed for the All-America City project.
At the police and fire stations, petunias spill out of window boxes. Flowers border every city parking lot. And three blocks west of the town square, Big Spring Park blossoms with lush gardens and a working clock decorated with live flowers. Dogwood trees share the spotlight each spring.
The town even welcomes new Chamber of Commerce members with flower-box arrangements.
Neosho’s floral tradition was revitalized three years ago when Treece, while cleaning the basement of the Chamber of Commerce office, uncovered a dusty file with plans for a giant flower box. Treece was fascinated with the idea, which had been shelved 20 years earlier because the town couldn’t obtain a railroad car.
“I talked to some people and took it before the Flower Box Committee,” recalls Treece, who has tended Neosho’s flower beds for 30 years.
The committee gave the project a green thumbs-up and the Kansas City Southern Railroad donated a retired car. Soon volunteers of all ages were pitching in.
Businesses donated paint, truckloads of dirt and compost, and cooked hot dogs for those attending “Bag of Dirt Day.” Students from Crowder College sandblasted and painted the train car forest green. Artist Mark Hollandsworth painted the sign for the planter: “Welcome to Historic Neosho. Home of the World’s Largest Flower Box.” Shana Griffin, Chamber of Commerce director, contacted the Guinness Book of World Records to get official recognition for the town’s bouquet.
Steve Taylor, owner of Flower Box Greenhouse, donated hundreds of bedding plants for the monumental planter. “This is such an attraction for the town,” he says. “This is something that everyone can get involved in.”
The giant flower box perfumes the air and is a visual feast for The Flower Box City, says Linda Anderson, president of The Flower Box City Garden Club.
“Planting and enjoying flowers is relaxing and calming,” she says. “And the incredible beauty of the flowers—in the springtime, it’s just gorgeous.”