Coal used in landscaping on the medians of Mulberry Street
July 20 — SCRANTON – What a sight to see anthracite charcoal decorating the medians of Mulberry Street.
Scranton Tomorrow, the nonprofit that leads downtown economic development efforts, recently installed black charcoal and brown mulch to beautify the middle islands of Mulberry Street 100, 200 and 300 blocks, between Mulberry Street Bridge and Wyoming Avenue.
The organization adopted the Median Islands several years ago from the state Department of Transportation and maintains their landscaping, said Scranton Tomorrow President and CEO Leslie Collins.
With medians sandwiched between multiple lanes of heavy traffic, maintenance involving mulching, backfilling and planting flowers hasn’t necessarily been easy, she said. Winter also brings challenges of plowed snow on the embankments and road salt eats away at the plants.
“Due to the location of the islands and the amount of traffic, and in the winter, maintaining the islands has really been a difficult task,” Collins said.
Steve Ward, who leads Scranton Tomorrow’s Downtown Safe, Clean & Green team of ambassadors, came up with the idea of using charcoal as decorative landscaping in the medians.
Ward, who previously worked as a coordinator in the Penn State Extension Master Gardener program, said he had never used charcoal in landscaping before.
“We wanted to remake the islands,” Ward said. “We tried all the different ways to make it look good and stay that way. We planted annuals, but it’s too difficult a place, a dangerous place, for people to work there regularly. We wanted to do something about it. durable, one-and-done for a few years, and looks nice and distinctive. “
Crushed stone would work well but is ubiquitous, he said. Given the history of coal mining in the city and region, Ward suggested using coal. This would suit both sturdiness and pay homage to the miners of old.
“It’s my way of saying thank you for all of their hard work,” Ward said.
He visited Agel Coal Co. in Scranton to examine the sizes of Broken Anthracite and chose Chestnut, a wholesale medium size, for the middle landscaping.
The landscaping was done in June.
Charcoal might be seen by some as an unusual landscaping choice. “It’s also very durable and beautiful. Even at night, any little light it picks up and it sparkles,” Ward said.
One of the medians also has a strip of perennials – black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers – planted in the charcoal bed that will provide a splash of vibrant color.
“It will be a few years before they get established,” Ward said. “They do very well in dry and hot environments, so they will be fine next year.”
Some motorists and pedestrians who noticed the coal gave it positive reviews, he said.
“People commented that it looked good,” Ward said, adding that some passers-by might not even know it was smut.
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