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Mailing your ballot in Philly? Follow the flowers

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A mailbox decorated with orange flowers

More than 17 florists and designers participated in United by Blooms, an effort to decorate mailboxes with floral arrangements to encourage people to vote. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Ask us: What do you want to know about voting and the 2020 election?

It’s a coincidence that the election season rushes toward its finish at the same time fall flowers do. Just as politicians are squeezing their sound and fury into the remaining days before November 3, the season’s foliage is wrapping itself up for the winter.

United By Blooms leverages that coincidence. The get-out-the-vote campaign asks florists and flower farmers to use whatever is leftover from the growing season to make large-scale floral arrangements at street postal boxes and ballot drop-off boxes. They act as a reminder for people to send their votes by mail, if they choose.

About sixteen mail boxes have been “bombed” – dressed up with extravagant flower arrangements. Many of them cascade with the yellow marigolds, orange dahlias, and golden zinnias of autumn.

“If you are a local grower, this is the end of the season,” said Kate Carpenter, creator of the United By Blooms campaign. “We’re lucky that it stayed so beautiful recently. Nice, warm sunny days keep the flowers going. But if we get a frost, it’s all done. We’re expecting that any day now.”

Carpenter is the co-owner of a small flower growing and arranging business East Mt. Airy Blooms. Her inspiration for United By Blooms came from several forces converging: the U.S. Postal service faces possible cuts (which were recently blocked), Pennsylvania is allowing anyone who wishes to vote by mail in a presidential election for the first time, and the end of the growing season puts a period on a very difficult year for the local flower industry.

“Florists and designers and farmers have had a tough year. They had to completely retool their businesses. I didn’t think people would jump at this opportunity,” said Carpenter.

She was surprised by how many florists signed on to United By Blooms, and how quickly. The call went out only six weeks ago. “The community of designers, florists and flower farmers is really strong,” said Carpenter.

Florist Kate Carpenter stands my her floral arrangement by a mailbox.
Florist Kate Carpenter launched the United by Blooms project because she wanted to do something positive for her community and encourage people to vote. She decorated a mailbox at the corner of Carpenter Lane and Greene Street in Mount Airy. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

One of the participants is Jennie Love, owner of Love ‘N Fresh Flowers. She created an autumn-colored rainbow of flowers arching about six feet high and plunging toward the slot of a postal box at the corner of Germantown Avenue and Bethlehem Pike in Chestnut Hill.

The arch starts at the bottom with deep copper-colored amaranth tassels, moves through a gradient of orange and dark yellow hues, and ends with a spear of bright golds and buttery yellows pointing toward the mailbox.

“We have lots of dahlias. It’s prime dahlia season in October,” said Love. “They start deep and rich at the bottom of the arch, then it gets the bright happiness close to the mailbox. That’s the goal: be bright and happy at the mailbox.”

Love is both a farmer and florist. She grows everything she uses on a five-acre, certified natural farm in Roxborough. The bread and butter of her business had been weddings, but that dried up this year. Last April, her prospects were dire.

Over the summer she launched a flower delivery service where people can pre-order a box of flowers and have it delivered weekly to their door. Called Porch Petals, Love keeps the delivery radius tight – she only services Philadelphia’s Northwest neighborhoods near her farm.

To her surprise, it worked. Porch Petals caught on and saved her business.

Floral designer Diane Floss (left) and Jennie Love of Love and Fresh Flowers decorated the mailbox at Germantown Avenue and Bethlehem Pike with a rainbow of flowers for the United by Blooms event. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“Porch Petals is a COVID pivot, but it proves our community here in Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy – they are phenomenal. I would start weeping if I think about it too much,” she said. “This community saved our farm.”

Love is fortunate that she is both a grower and an arranger: she supplies herself. Other florists who rely on shipped flowers have fared much worse as international supply chains have broken down during the global pandemic. Flowers, after all, cannot sit in warehouses.

United By Blooms is ostensibly a get-out-the-vote campaign addressing anxieties about voting by mail and the tenuous financial position of the Postal Service. Love says, “I don’t have answers to any of that.”

More important to her is that this floral arrangement be a love letter to the community that proves, even during a pandemic, flowers can make a difference.

Kaitlin Orner of Pomelo flower shop decorated the mailbox in front of her store at the corner of Germantown Avenue and Duval Street. She is one of many local florists participating in the United by Blooms campaign aimed at encouraging people to vote. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“One of the best silver linings for COVID for me is the awareness of how much flowers help people endure,” said Love. “The ZIP code we’re in right now – 19118 – is by far our best ZIP code. By far. This neighborhood is absolutely critical to keeping my farm going.”

United By Blooms is this week only, based in greater Philadelphia with outlier florists in South Jersey and Brooklyn. Carpenter has made an online map of where all the flowered mailboxes are, and a list of the participating florists.

She said more florists asked to be included at the last minute, too late to be added to the campaign’s materials. Carpenter gave them her blessing to go rogue.

“You can guerilla-style this,” she said. “Flower-bomb a box. I don’t need to know about it.”

Those florists officially participating are asked to take down their arrangements after three days – through Friday – so flowers losing their bloom won’t become public eyesores.

Which way will Pa. vote?

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