Westlake holds annual gala for gardeners

Holly Tomkalski, winner of the Lu Walter Best in Bloom Award, with contest judge Judy McNamara, planning director and master of ceremonies Jim Bedell, Bloom coordinator Jean Smith, and Mayor Dennis Clough. Photo by Denny Wendell

Westlake was all abloom again this summer as gardeners across the city took to the soil in hopes of winning the annual planting contest. Westlake in Bloom, the community beautification program that began with planting day on May 17, concluded Aug. 13 with an awards ceremony at LaCentre.

More than 300 entrants competed in 23 categories, varying in scale from expansive business landscaping all the way down to residential window box gardens. As in years past, the judging panel included master gardeners, a past Bloom winner and a couple of amateur gardeners. Plaques were awarded for the top three finishers in each category, with the first-place winners receiving $25 gift certificates to one of Westlake’s four garden centers.

The most coveted award of the evening, the Lu Walter Best in Bloom Award, recognizes the best of the best gardens. Master gardener Judy McNamara visited each category’s first-place winner and selected the one that she felt best symbolized Lu’s philosophy on life and gardening.

This year’s winner was one of the youngest entrants in the competition, 14-year-old Holly Tomkalski. The patio garden she grows at her family’s Bradley Road home had been recognized with third-place, honorable mention and second-place awards in the past three years, but this year she won big.

“Holly Kaye Tomkalski’s patio garden exemplifies all that Lu was about,” McNamara said. “This garden has grown into a colorful, floral outdoor space. I have seen this garden evolve from simple containers to a beautifully balanced area of lush plantings. Holly surrounded the area on all sides and levels with well balanced pots of striking color.”

Holly began gardening at age 8 as part of a Girl Scout badge project growing vegetables. She’s had a love for it ever since, something that her parents, Joel and Linda, try to nurture.

Holly and her mother volunteer together at the Our House greenhouse, but the patio garden is entirely Holly’s project. Aside from some coleus that she overwintered indoors and a few perennials, the garden is filled with annuals. Linda admitted to helping with one aspect, shopping, as Holly was still in school when planting season began in May.

It’s no surprise that Judy McNamara was drawn to the “striking” color in Holly’s garden, as that is one of her favorite aspects of gardening. “I like putting all the colors together and making one cohesive pot,” Holly said.

This year marked the first that the Adopt-a-Bed gardens were included in the competition. Bonnie Heim and Campbell Bailey from the Westlake service department judged the seven entries and awarded first place to the Dean’s Greenhouse bed at the corner of Center Ridge and Porter roads.

Awards of distinction were bestowed upon three honorees this year: the Westlake Community Garden for community involvement, Dr. William Bennett for heritage preservation involving the 1820 House on Center Ridge Road, and Crocker Park for its floral displays.

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Volume 6, Issue 17, Posted 10:13 AM, 08.19.2014