This year is the 85th anniversary of the Bridge of Flowers. There have been many changes since the trolley was discontinued and Antoinette Burnham declared that if an abandoned bridge could grow weeds it could grow flowers. It was with community effort that the Bridge of Flowers first bloomed in 1930. It blooms exuberantly today, from April and well into October.
Anyone who has ever owned a house and dealt with necessary ongoing maintenance will understand the changes that have been put in place on the Bridge of Flowers (BOF) over the past few years. Fences and buildings deteriorate, while conditions of use change. Plants get too big and need to be removed and sometimes they just die. They need to be replaced.
Each year more and more people cross the Bridge, and more and more of those people are tourists, from around the state, but also from around the world. The volunteer BOF committee gets requests for information from touring companies in countries as different as Ireland and Japan. This is a very good thing for the businesses in town, and a spur to keep the Bridge looking at its very best all season long.
When repairs and improvements have been needed the BOF committee has tried to make even the most functional elements beautiful. For example, the colorful painted sign on the Shelburne side is embraced by a graceful metal support. It will soon be joined by a similar, but smaller sign on the Buckland side.
A protected and handsome kiosk was installed on the Buckland side to provide information about the Bridge, a guest book and a donation box. A smaller charming sign- in stand, and a donation box are on the Shelburne side. Contributions made through those donation boxes are very important to supporting the plantings on Bridge.
The Friends of the Bridge of Flowers, formed about six years ago, are also vital to the ability of the BOF committee to handle maintenance costs of the Bridge. A wooden fence separated the Bridge property from the VFW and the adjacent cottage for decades. However, wood rots, and the old fence was finally replaced by an elegant new fence. This spring a section of that fence is being repositioned to accommodate the new Garden House, and the drainage issues that affect the VFW and the cottage as well as the Bridge. The names of all these Friends, individuals and businesses, are listed on the Friends Tree which is another example of functional art on the Bridge.
In 2012, after years of searching for the right stones, the Stone Spring was installed, along with a simple stone bench. The quiet beauty of the fountain draws many people to sit and reflect in the loveliness of this shady spot.
Last spring the sculptural and very sturdy River Bench was installed on the Shelburne side. Note the flowing design, and the river stones.
This spring the 40 year old shed where Head Gardener Carol Delorenzo and the volunteer Flower Brigade keep their tools and equipment is being replaced by a Garden House. No longer will opening garden preparations be put off because the rotting shed doors, and wheelbarrows and other equipment are encased in ice.
The carefully designed Garden House will be slightly larger than the original shed, built to last longer than 40 years, and to be another element of very functional art.
Every gardener knows that a garden is never the same from year to year. Elaine Parmett, longtime committee member and occasional chairperson, said, “It’s been fun to watch how the plantings changed as different Head Gardeners came and left. Each one had a very different style. In those early years the Head Gardener was paid a small stipend, but there was no tracking of hours. There was no sense that she had a professional position. Of course, it was just a much simpler time,” Parmett said.
Nan Fischlein, current co-chair, and Elaine Parmett were on the BOF committee in the 1980s and both remember how simple an operation it was, much more informal and run on a shoestring. Back then the main funding came from small donations from the towns, and from the annual plant sale.
Parmett said she joined the committee and wanted to learn more about flowers. After 40 years she feels her own gardens have been enhanced and that the Bridge has grown more beautiful every year. “Nowadays there is more awareness that the Bridge is a community effort and needs community support.”
Fischlein agreed with Parmett that there have been great changes over the years. “I found a seachange in the way the board operates now, including the energy spent on keeping the Bridge in the public eye with a website and Facebook page. It is quite a new way of thinking about the public image of the Bridge. I think there is no way to understand how much the Bridge is involved in the local community. We have an educational program with the elementary schools, and are now giving tours to garden groups. We appreciate the growing support given to the Bridge. I’ve learned this time around that there is a lot of administrative effort behind the scenes to make the Bridge successful year after year!”
Like Parmett and Fischlein, I am also a member of the BOF committee, working harder than I expected. When people ask me why I do it, I echo the feeling of all the committee members and say, “For the pure joy of it.”