May 6th was American Public Gardens Day, but the American Public Gardens Association (AGPA) says official festivities continue right through Mother’s Day. The Bridge of Flowers, possibly our most notable local public garden, will not have any special festivities, but the community enjoys the festive and floriferous atmosphere every day from April 1 to October 30.
The APGA defines a public garden as one “that maintains collections of plants for the purposes of public education and enjoyment, in addition to research, conservation, and higher learning. It must be open to the public and the garden’s resources and accommodations must be made to all visitors.” This basic definition provides a physical description but does not begin to describe what the Bridge of Flowersmeans to our community.
The Bridge of Flowers has a long history beginning in 1929 when the trolley service between Colrain and ShelburneFalls was discontinued. It was the proliferation of that new locomotion, cars and trucks, that caused the demise of the trolley. If the bridge’s important function of moving freight, mail and residents from town to town was its only function, it might have remained the weedy eyesore it quickly became, or even been torn down. However, the bridge also carried a vital water main from Shelburne to Buckland. The bridge could not be demolished.
It was Antoinette Burnham who mused that a bridge that could grow all those weeds could also grow flowers. With the help of her husband who typed up a letter to the Greenfield Recorder, community support soon began to build.
The Shelburne Falls Fire District bought the bridge for $1,250; they are the owners of the bridge structure to this day. In the spring of 1929 eighty loads of loam were brought to the bridge along with several loads of fertilizer. I suspect the fertilizer was manure from local farmers, but that is my own thought. All this work was done by volunteers while the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club and others in the community raised $1000. I also suspect that the first plantings included divisions of perennials from local gardens and perhaps a few packets of seed.
Ever since its creation as The Bridge of Flowers the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club (now the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club) has assumed responsibility for the care and management of the Bridge. The Bridge of Flowers committee is a subcommittee of the Women’s Club, reporting to it and receiving support from the Club.
The look of the plantings on the Bridge has changed over time. We gardeners know that the very nature of a garden is change. Over the years women like Gertrude Newell, Trudy Finck, Carolyn Wheeler and Carole Markle took over the direction of the garden, and different ideas about style have taken their turn. For the past 20 years Carole Delorenzo, with her great horticultural knowledge, has been Head Gardener. What never changed was the pleasure local residents enjoyed as they used the Bridge of Flowers, the prettiest way to get from one town to the other, as they went about their rounds.
The nation’s economy also changed over those decades. Our area which is an agricultural area, gained a reputation as a tourist area. The commonwealth now has a Department of Travel and Tourism which promotes the beauties, arts, excitements and adventures available throughout the state. The Bridge of Flowers figures in their promotions, as it does in the promotions of the Mohawk Trail Association.
The result is that over 36,000 visitors sign the Bridge of Flowers guest book every year. Of course, some of these people live locally, but there are visits from all over the US, and 90 foreign countries ranging from England to Japan and China.
When Antoinette Burnham first thought that a weedy bridge could become a community asset I doubt that she imagined anything more than a spot of beauty that would give pleasure. And yet, the Bridge has become an economic benefit to the town by attracting tourists who will stop for a meal, or an ice cream cone, or beautiful items from our galleries.
The Bridge of Flowers committee is grateful for the way that town businesses have appreciated the Bridge and what it means by becoming Friends of the Bridge. Until 2008 the Committee depended on funds from the donation boxes, but that was beginning to be insufficient. It was out of the need for more financial help that the Friends of the Bridge was created. The generous response from a wide community has increased every year. It is gratifying to know how the Bridge is loved and appreciated.
The last few years have seen beautiful additions to the Bridge, from the sign-in kiosks, the Silent Spring fountain, and the River Bench created by Bob Compton, Paul Forth and John Sendelbach along with the generosity of W.R. Hillman & Sons and Goshen Stone. This year the Garden House was completed. The design was donated by architect Kim Erslev and the finishing touch was the donation of a stained glass window designed by Nancy Katz and created by her husband Mark Liebowitz.
Next Saturday, May 14, the Bridge of Flowers committee will hold their annual plant sale which supports the Bridge, and makes it possible to share some of the Bridge’s plants, and plants from local gardens, with area gardeners. The Plant Sale is held on the Trinity Church’s Baptist Lot on Main Street in Shelburne Falls rain or shine. In addition to perennials there will be annuals, refreshments, vendors, and Master Gardeners who will do soil tests. Gardeners can come early and scope out the plants, but no touching until the bell rings at 9 am. Sale ends at noon.
Between the Rows May 7, 2016