116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Marion horticulturist looks to bring happiness with the details
Mary Weber’s work of planting and maintaining the city’s flowers never stops
MARION — As Uptown Marion has been in the midst of a face-lift over the last couple of years with the continuing Seventh Avenue streetscape project and multiple plaza projects, city horticulturist Mary Weber is all about the details.
Weber, 30, has been in her position with the city for just over two years. She’s responsible for all the city’s flowers from Uptown and its medians and artway to the city’s parks including Thomas, Hanna, Lowe and others.
“All of the small details are what add up to make something impressive,” Weber said. “Those small details matter.”
Her love of the job stems from her time with her mother and grandmother. Weber said both women are “super plant ladies.”
“We always had flower beds so I would follow my mom all day and help plant and weed, and my grandma had plant catalogs so I would go there after school and flip through them with her,” Weber said. “Without knowing it, all along, that was the path I was supposed to go down.”
Weber grew up in Charlotte, Iowa, near DeWitt, and got her degree in animal ecology and horticulture from Iowa State University. She originally planned to go on to veterinary school, but decided she didn’t want to spend a lot of time indoors.
So after working as a school car driver for children who needed individual transportation and doing a stint with the city of Davenport as a nature and garden educator, she found her way to Marion in 2020.
“This job is great and there’s always something new,” she said. “We’re always trying to grow and improve. How can we make this better? How can we make things more appealing for the public and make Marion the place to be? You can always brainstorm here and the answer is never, ‘no.’ It’s always, ‘let’s see.’”
Weber has one full-time staff member from the parks division and two full-time seasonal staffers to assist with all the horticultural work.
They maintain a total of 3.74 acres of flower beds, which equals almost three football fields.
“Mary continues to look at bettering herself with learning new things and is always willing to help others,” Marion Parks and Recreation Director Seth Staashelm said. “She is innovative in her bed designs and loves to share her knowledge to others whether its passersby or the children in her ‘Little Sprouts’ class.”
In the spring, they plant 3,500 annuals. In the Uptown Marion area and the parks, there are around 150 planters for annuals alone. And each year, they add more perennials to the parks.
“It takes three weeks to get all the annuals in if the weather agrees and it all goes according to plan,” Weber said.
Then summer comes and Weber said it’s just weed, water, repeat. She also teaches classes for kids and adults about nature and planting, and organizes volunteers for beautification projects.
The fall brings the planting of 150 mums, and then it’s cleaning up the beds for the winter. With winter comes planning and purchasing the next season’s plants. Weber said she hopes to build a greenhouse and start growing some annuals in the future as well.
Throughout all the seasons, Weber said, she looks to go bright and bold with the city’s flowers.
“My whole goal last year with the pandemic was just ‘happy,’” she said. “I wanted something that was in your face and to make you smile. We all need that. Bright colors to give you some dopamine.”
Weber moved to Marion during a difficult period — amid the COVID-19 pandemic and derecho recovery.
A lot of the parks and recreation team spent weeks conducting tree inventory after the August 2020 storm.
“During that time, we went to every single city-managed tree and we walked five to 10 miles a day, and we had to give a rough estimate on how many would need to be removed, trimmed or if they were fine,” Weber said.
Since then, Weber has been hitting the ground running in her normal job duties, which are busy enough without an inland hurricane coming through town.
“Watering is our biggest thing in the summer of course,” she said. “With four people, it still takes two to three days a week of watering all day. It takes that to keep everything alive with fertilizing. But that’s what we do to keep everything big and shining.”
Some of the Uptown planters have their own water reservoirs. Weber and her team only have to water the big ones once a week and the hanging baskets twice a week.
And as the streetscape and plaza projects come to fruition, the goal is for the colorful flowers that make up the decorative details of the Uptown area pop and stand out.
“I put the little cherry on top of these projects,” Weber said of the flowers. “I’m dressing it up and putting the bow on the package. Everyone really appreciates the large-scale projects we have now, but what they notice is the flowers.”
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