By Jenny Neyman
To say there’s been an explosion in Kenai is, yes, a gratuitous use of verbiage to describe a field of wildflowers, but such is the force with which it has bloomed that the gentle terms usually associated with landscaping simply don’t apply.
The previously drab dirt pile along the Kenai Spur Highway across from the Welcome to Kenai sign has blasted forth recently with such a ruckus of color that it’s a veritable assault on the eyeballs.
But in the nicest way possible.
“It’s beautiful up here!” said Carole Buchholz, of Soldotna, who was wandering amid the riot of yellows, oranges, pinks, purples, reds and blues Monday with her family — husband, Curt, daughter and son-in-law, Kristina and Clint James, and granddaughter, Olivia James.
The Buchholz-James family was one of several groups posing among the poppies for a family portrait, with photographer Shawna Shields of Narrow Road Productions in tow.
With the landscape aflame in color it was impossible not to get striking shots, even if 2-year-old Olivia’s patience was quickly flaming out.
They tried bubbles. They tried tossing her in the air. They tried hiding keys and other personal effects for Olivia to find among the flowers — “OK, but I do need my credit card back,” Curt Buchholz said — hoping each tactic would elicit a smile to match the rapturous scene through which they were wading.
“I’d love to know how many seeds they used,” Carole Buchholz remarked, a little dreamily.
“I’d like to see the bees that come up here,” said Clint James, a little more pragmatically, as the toddler squirmed away from mom and made a beeline toward grandpa.
“No, she’s good,” Shields reassured the family. “I’m getting some good ones. This is such a great spot. It’s so neat they did this.”
“It seems like it’s very successful. People seem to really love it,” said Kenai Mayor Pat Porter.
The field was — pardon the 1989 Kevin Costner movie reference — one of dreams.
“It’s a project I’ve been working on for several years and it finally come to fruition. It’s always been a dream of mine to plant wildflowers on that hillside,” Porter said.
It was just a bare lump along the road, where construction crews dumped leftover dirt from the installation of the new artificial track and field at Kenai Central High School.
“There was nothing there but a dirt pile for years. We had to do something on it anyway,” Porter said. “The city administration finally made it happen, so there it is.”
The city tilled the field and had a contractor come spray-seed it in June, then watered it with a portable watering apparatus to get things growing. The project cost about $4,500, Porter said.
Plants started sprouting nearly immediately and unleashed their onslaught of color toward the end of August. Now that the field is in full bloom it’s even more a reference to the “Field of Dreams” movie, in that it’s holding true with the film’s famous line, “If you build it, they will come.”
The hillside had people coming and going all Monday. On the far side of the field toward the high school, teenagers were taking selfies with their cellphone cameras. Over a rise toward town, another family was posing for portrait shots. Beyond them a couple of girls were gathering blooms for bouquets.
“It’s been quite an attraction, I understand,” Porter said. “People love driving by it and say what a great thing it is for the city.”
Many of the plants are perennials, so the hope is they will return on their own next year, Porter said. She said that the plan is for the city to mow the field after the flowers are done blooming this fall and leave the clippings in place so the flowers will reseed for next year.
Still, Porter said that she hopes the city can work with schools to research flowers that are particularly successful in Alaska’s climate and have kids plant some in the field next spring.
Perhaps next year the city will establish walking paths, Porter said, to limit tulips being trampled by too much indiscriminate tiptoeing. Other than that, there might be more watering required, but otherwise no continued maintenance is planned, Porter said.
“Hopefully, Mother Nature will just provide,” she said.