From individual cities to regions to entire countries, various "in bloom" programs, sometimes connected to a larger program, sometimes not, employ contests and other incentives to get community residents out there planting. The contests as such are not really the point. It’s all about inciting people to clean up and beautify—but the competitive spirit is meant to be a strong inducement.
It’s interesting how different countries rank the criteria. Britain in Bloom judges on floral display, permanent landscaping, sustainable development, environmental quality, and public awareness, in that order. In Canada, it’s tidiness, environmental awareness, community involvement, natural and cultural heritage conservation, urban forestry, landscaped areas, floral displays, and turf and ground cover areas. America in Bloom uses the same criteria and gives an award for each. Individual communities can organize their own contests and adjust the criteria to their needs.
We have Buffalo in Bloom, which started out as a contest organized by fifteen councilmanic districts, with only 1 winner and 2 runners-up for each (front gardens only!). Winning it meant something then; the competition was stiff. Three years ago, all that was changed and now there are no winners, just "recognition" with a sign on your yard and your address on the website. Last year over 1200 gardens were recognized, including mine. Big whup, as they say. I might add that the Buffalo in Bloom judges of yore often favored large colorful arrays of bedding annuals. Now they’re happy if you’ve weeded. So it goes.In Western New York, I would speculate that our various Garden Walks provide more of an incentive for street and neighborhood cleanups than BIB does; residents seem more aware of the influx of thousands of walkers and the desire to draw walkers than they do of the BIB contest. There are many more walkers than there are BIB judges, and sometimes the walkers buy houses. But from what I hear, the "in bloom" programs are getting hotter. In 2006, eight American communities, most of them relatively small, won awards from AIB: Gallipolis, Ohio won for floral displays and Bartlett, Tennessee won for tidiness, to name two. The Britain in Bloom program seems very strong; their 2006 award ceremony, held in Perth, was nationally reported (Scotland pulled off a sweep of sorts). On the other hand, the America in Bloom awards were given out in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and reported only via the organization’s website.
Whatever they’re doing in Britain, it does seem to work; beautification efforts in the towns and villages I saw when I was there were widely prevalent and effective. Is it Britain in Bloom? Or are they just better at the whole gardening thing? (Yeah, I know, I’m buying into the stereotype—I can’t help what I saw!) Could America in Bloom have the same effect here?