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September 18. 2013 12:40AM

Police urge drivers to enjoy the view, but not stop to take photos of flowers


Sunflowers are blooming along Route 101 in Epping, Interstate 93 in Lincoln and Tilton, Interstate 89 in Hopkinton and Springfield, Route 12 in North Charlestown, and near Exit 11 on the Everett Turnpike in Merrimack. (JASON SCHREIBER/Union Leader Correspondent)

Sunflowers have popped up in flower beds along some of the state's busiest highways, bringing smiles to the faces of sometimes grouchy motorists.

The sunflowers and other wildflowers were planted in beds at seven sites as part of an ongoing beautification effort by the state Department of Transportation.

Planting wildflowers along highways isn't a new concept, but the sunflowers have surprised many drivers. They surprised state highway officials as well.

Turns out sunflowers weren't on the list the state put together when the planting project was awarded to Brochu Nurseries and Landscaping in Concord.

"We were pleasantly surprised to see sunflowers because they weren't in the mix. Maybe we got a bonus," said Guy Giunta, landscape specialist for the DOT.

But that bonus has also come with an unintended consequence.

The sunflowers in the center median strip of Route 101 in Epping are eye-catching and have become a bit of a spectacle, leading some motorists to pull over and cross the highway to snap pictures.

While they make for a great photograph, state police and highway officials are urging people to enjoy the sunflowers while driving by.

"I would encourage people to continue to pay attention to the roadway, especially since this flower bed is on the crest of a hill in the westbound direction. A person crossing the roadway toward the center median is dangerous," State Police Lt. Chris Vetter of Troop A in Epping said.

Police have responded to a few calls about people crossing the highway for pictures.

Just last week, a state trooper on Route 101 noticed someone standing in the median with a camera; he stopped to move him along.

"It should be obvious to the motoring public that you never stop on the side of the highway unless there's an emergency," Giunta said.

The sunflowers are among the flowers blooming along Interstate 93 in Lincoln and Tilton, Interstate 89 in Hopkinton and Springfield, Route 12 in North Charlestown, and in the area of Exit 11 on the Everett Turnpike in Merrimack.

Giunta said the DOT designed the sites; Brochu Nurseries and Landscaping was hired to order the seeds, plant them and maintain the flower beds.

Leah Brochu, who owns the nursery with her husband, said the company gave the seed specifications to its supplier, American Meadows of Williston, Vt.

"They mix it, send it to us and then we put it down," Brochu said.

Giunta said the flower beds cost about $150,000 and are paid for through the state's conservation license plate/moose plate program.

"It's not tax dollars. It's funded by the people who buy the plates," Giunta said.

He said the DOT uses the portion of funding it receives from the plates to beautify the highways by planting native and naturalized wildflowers and lilacs.

"The department is well aware of the fact that tourism is very important for New Hampshire," Giunta said.

The flower beds have been planted since the 1990s; the practice was stopped around 2002 when funding was tight, Giunta said.

The plantings resumed when money from the moose plate program became available a few years later.

The beds feature annuals such as California poppies, baby's breath and cosmos in addition to perennials, including New England aster, wild lupines, black-eyed Susans, gloriosa daisies, and purple coneflowers.

Carol Ann Bonenfant of Epping is one of the drivers surprised by the sunflowers.

"Indeed the sunflowers caught my eye and as I passed the patch of sunflowers I caught myself smiling at such a nice surprise. Being a lover of flowers I'm all for beautifying our already green beautiful state with the flowers and a smile or two that they bring," she said.

jschreiber@newstote.com


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