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DECATUR — After months of pruning and preparation, Decatur will showcase its hard work for judges from the national America In Bloom landscaping competition this week. 

Residents are invited to join in celebrating the arrival of judges Kristin Pategas and Mary Hertel at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday at the Decatur Airport. Businesses and organizations are encouraged to display their brand with signs or apparel during the greeting and throughout the city. 

Decatur's America in Bloom team will supply a banner for the occasion. "No noisemakers, please," said chairperson Ellen Hearn. "We will have someone playing the cello for soft background music."

The next day the judges, along with organizers of the Decatur competition and other guests, will follow a designated map viewing specific areas that include both colleges, Rock Springs Nature Center, Transfer House and the downtown area, and Scovill Zoo. They will continue for a second day of judging on Friday.

Different speakers will be traveling with the bus with the judges providing additional information with the displays and areas. They will also have iPads for additional information.

The national America in Bloom contest was established in 2001 and encourages community building. In Decatur, volunteers, community leaders and members of the Beautify Decatur Coalition have been working to prepare since September, when Decatur's acceptance into the contest was announced. 

Contest judges are a group of various professionals with a focus on horticultural, civic and business sectors. Judges evaluate the community, pointing out its strengths as well as offering advice on possible improvements.

Pategas and Hertel will also be available for consultation after the competition. They are among 30 judges volunteering their expertise for the national competition.

A 35-year resident of the central California coast, Hertel works as a residential landscape designer. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Ornamental Horticulture from California Polytechnic State University, and has held an advanced certificate as California nurseryperson for more than 30 years.

Throughout her career, Hertel’s experiences in the field of horticulture include retail nursery management, agricultural inspector and exotic pest prevention program manager.

Hertel is a member of several horticultural boards and commissions. She oversees, implements and designs landscape projects, including a demonstration fire-resistant landscape garden, a drought-resistant landscaped historical park and several Monarch Butterfly Waystations.

Pategas is a certified landscape designer, horticulturist and co-owner a boutique landscape design firm in Florida. In 1982, Pategas began her career as a plant pathologist at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Theme Park. During her time there, she managed the nursery, developed educational programming for the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival and was a program manager for The Disney Institute.

Pategas is also the co-author of the book "Southern Coastal Home Landscaping" with her husband Stephen. Together they write two gardening columns.

Hertel and Pategas will not only critique the landscapes and displays of Decatur, but will also study other aspects including urban forestry, environmental efforts, historical preservation, community vitality and overall appearance.

Jill Davis, Beautify Decatur Coalition co-chair, has witnessed the herculean effort of preparing for the national competition. “Everybody has stepped up in the community,” she said. “It is a huge task, but very rewarding.”

Organizers of the event are impressed with the judges expertise. “Having an expert from Disney World can be daunting,” Davis said. “The California judge has experience with monarch butterflies. So we are highlighting the butterflies in the area.”

Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR

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"Together Decatur" Columnist and Food and Drink Reporter

“Together Decatur” columnist and food and drink reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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