Main Street Blowing Rock is neat and tidy

Main Street in Blowing Rock is neat and tidy.

While walking through your community, look up and look down — what do you see? Jack Clasen, judge with the America in Bloom program, notices the street gutters.

Since 2002, Jack has traveled across our country evaluating communities for America in Bloom, a national program promoting community beautification. A two-judge team visits a community, assessing seven different criteria including landscaped areas, urban trees and floral displays.

But what really catches Jack Clasen’s attention when he visits as a judge? Tidiness.

“I start at the beginning and look at tidiness. A community that cares is clean. When I’m visiting a community, I’m looking at the details. I look up at the flower baskets, but I also look down at the gutters. If you have both litter and beautiful flowers, people will notice the litter,” he said.

Efforts to promote community beautification began in Britain and Europe after World War II. Local government and civic organizations sought to help their communities move beyond post-WWII rebuilding efforts and into a new era — promoting tourism, economic development and civic pride.

Canada brought the idea to North America by creating their own version, Communities in Bloom, 25 years ago. In 2001 a group of horticultural companies contributed the initial funding to create a U.S. recognition program: Thus, America in Bloom was born. Since then, the program has recognized nearly 300 communities for their beautification efforts.

Beautification is more than just pretty places: Plenty of data suggest that a community’s appearance matters. Researchers believe the appearance of a community impacts concerns as diverse as crime rates, citizen health and their bottom line.

Investing in its appearance can attract money to a community. In 2016, the global value of tourism was reported as $7.6 trillion. Closer to home the N.C. Secretary of Commerce reports that in 2016 nearly 50 million visitors spent $23 billion visiting North Carolina destinations.

Once a community applies to the America in Bloom program, judges visit to make their assessment, comparing communities of similar size; winners are then recognized through the America in Bloom national awards. While some communities participate for the awards, others see it as a learning experience, using the judges’ feedback for guidance and long-term improvement.

The international competition, Communities in Bloom, allows communities that have won in their national program to compete with others of similar size across the globe. Jack Clasen has had the opportunity to serve as a judge for some of those competitions and feels the best communities in our country can hold their own with others around the world.

He did, however, point out that northern towns tend to fare better than southern communities. He explains our baking heat can leave flowers looking limp and dampen citizens’ enthusiasm for beautification work in July when the judges typically arrive.

In 2018, Blowing Rock participated in the America in Bloom program receiving a five-star rating for its flowers and special recognition going to Rumple Memorial Presbyterian church, the Blowing Rock and the Inn at Ragged Gardens for their historic gardens.

Jack Clasen will be in Blowing Rock on Sept. 4 for a presentation to the Blowing Rock Garden Club about his adventures as an America in Bloom judge. Let’s hope things are looking tidy when he arrives.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email

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