302. Ludington Petunia Parade


What does a Petunia Parade have to do with the Mason County Agricultural Trail? Beginning in 1988, these beautiful ribbons of Petunias have been started from seeds every year at Gustafson’s Greenhouse on a farm in Summit Township. Today this 60-acre farm and greenhouse are owned by Joseph Gustafson a fourth generation proprietor. His great-grandparents were the original settlers and orchards once occupied the land. The Gustafson’s raise and sell a variety of flowers and vegetable plants to local retailers such as Grassa’s Farm Market and Orchard Market and dealers in Reed City and Traverse City.

Any visitor to Ludington will tell you that one of the most beautiful sights during the summer months is the Petunia Parade. Each spring hundreds of volunteers gather along Ludington Avenue, the downtown boulevards, and at the city marina to plant 30,000 red, white, and purple petunias. Started by Ellery and Sue Sabin in 1988, the Petunia Parade has become an annual tradition.

By the time of the Fourth of July Freedom Festival, the petunias are in full bloom, and a wave of color lines the avenue from Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital all the way to the beach of Lake Michigan. Each block is assigned a captain who is responsible for supervising a crew to maintain the flowers in that block. From planting the petunias to watering and weeding, it takes a small army to keep this cherished tradition going.

Leadership for this beautification mission centers in the Ludington Petunia Parade Committee, a hard working organization that arranges details for the upcoming season. Block captains must be recruited and donations sought through fundraising events. The previous season’s planting and management procedures are analyzed and tweaked, always striving for the best possible outcome. Landscaping experts are consulted to plan for soil conditioning in areas needing enrichment. The watering truck is serviced and equipment is repaired.

With all preparations in place, early on a Saturday morning during the third week of May, the petunia beds come alive with a buzz of activity, as community members gather for Planting Day – the annual “rite of spring” for this community endeavor. By noon, the last petunia is in the ground and workers make their way to City Park, where “hots and brats” are provided by a local civic group.

The cost of each planting season is approximately $10,000 with donations from businesses and private citizens covering a great deal of the cost.