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By Hazel Ford–
Citrus Heights resident Ron Ferns is the man behind the 200-yard-long stretch of flowers growing on Auburn Boulevard near Walmart. For over 30 years, the 78-year-old has been volunteering his time to clean up trash and plant bulbs along the road, making use of his green thumb to beautify his city.
After moving to Citrus Heights with his wife in 1974, Ferns started working on beautifying the section of Auburn Boulevard near his home by first cleaning up garbage — from old tires to Christmas trees — littering the side of the road. To maintain the area, he would carry a plastic bag with him on his daily five-mile jog and fill it with litter along the way.
“Pretty soon it started looking pretty good and I thought well, maybe some flowers would look nice,” Ferns told The Sentinel in a recent interview. After considering what kind of flowers would grow best in the area, he decided to plant California poppies — the official state flower of California.
Soon, flowers began to bloom along the roadside stretch between San Tomas Drive and Cobalt Way. Along with poppies, Ferns planted paperwhite bulbs from his backyard, as well as dutch iris, bearded iris, and several other varieties.
The project has largely been a one-man volunteer effort, but Ferns accepts help from those who occasionally express interest. He affectionately calls the stretch of flowers his own “Daffodil Hill,” referring to the popular farm in Amador County known for its acres of flowering daffodils.
Ferns, who retired after teaching at Lichen Elementary for 26 years, now invests four to five hours a week into upkeep and also spends time maintaining the Stock Ranch Nature Preserve behind Costco. His work largely involves picking up trash and pulling up weeds between the flowers, but he uses leaf mulch to help keep the weed growth down.
Because the stretch of roadside along Auburn Boulevard lacks any irrigation, the flowers depend on rain to grow and bloom. Ferns said the paperwhites bloom first, from around December to February, and the California poppies are typically the last to fade in June. The flowers then dry out during the hottest months of summer before springing back up when rain arrives.
Ferns says he enjoys gardening along the boulevard and told The Sentinel that residents have expressed their appreciation for his work by offering him gifts — from movie theater tickets, to candy, to bottled water. Some have even offered him cash, although he replied each time that he didn’t need it.
“The thing that I enjoy the most is when the people come by and say how much they appreciate it,” he said. “That’s the reward. The Lord gave me the ability — the green thumb — and so I’m just expanding that. I’m trying to do what I can to enhance the beauty of the city.”
But his beautification efforts haven’t always been flowery. Ferns told the Sentinel that he’s faced quite a few difficulties over the past few decades.
Trash continues to make its way to the roadside, and he has to dispose of roadkill that regularly ends up on the side of the road. He also tried planting more expensive flowers, but the bulbs were dug up and stolen.
“Another difficulty has been digging to plant bulbs,” he explained. “With highways, you get all kinds of debris. There’s nothing but rocks under that dirt, so I’m constantly cleaning up and getting rid of rock… Sometimes I’ve had boulders, practically, to pull out.”
One of the biggest frustrations occurred shortly after he began planting flowers, when his flowers were suddenly killed one day by Sacramento County workers who were spraying the roadsides to control weeds. Ferns approached the county regarding the issue, and after several phone calls the county put up a large “no spray” sign to alert crews to not spray his flowers.
When Citrus Heights became a city in 1997, Ferns said things improved and he started working with the city’s general services division, which advised him what the city could and couldn’t do. He says the city has openly supported his efforts, but because the strip of land technically belongs to the homeowners whose rear yards border Auburn Boulevard, the city isn’t responsible for maintaining the area.
Despite improvements with cityhood, Ferns still said he has issues with utility crews damaging his work. Just last year, he said nearly half of his flowers were destroyed by roadside utility workers who drove their trucks over large portions of his flowers.
Ferns’ future plans for continuing to beautify his section of Auburn Boulevard include painting a mural on the 200-yard wall behind the flowers.
In honor of Auburn Boulevard being the historic Highway 40, his idea is to have the wall painted with an old Highway 40 theme, with help from the art departments at Mesa Verde and San Juan high schools. The wall is currently plain, and while it looks beautiful with the flowers blooming, Ferns said that a mural would keep the street looking good even when the flowers die back in the summer.
“It’s just in planning stage; we don’t know what’s going to happen yet,” said Ferns, noting that he’s already discussed the plans for a mural with the city and at least one school principal. “It looks like it’s a go, as far as putting up the mural. We just need a plan.”
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*Note: A prior version of this story incorrectly spelled Ferns’ last name as Fern. This has since been updated. Our apologies for the error.
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