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The Flower Brigade

L to R Tish Murphy, Judy Harlow, Penny Spearance, Joanie Greenfield

The Bridge of Flowers is a blooming wonder. Starting in April and through October it is in flower from the bright crocus and daffodils of early spring, through rose season and then dahlia season. I could not possibly give you a list of all the flowers that take their turn on the Bridge, bulbs, annuals, perennials, blooming shrubs and trees, all making life in Shelburne Falls a delight and attracting over 35,000 visitors from across the country and all over the world.

The Bridge of Flowers email often brings the question, when is the best time to visit the Bridge? The answer to that is easy – there is no best time. Through the skill of the Head Gardener, Carol Delorenzo, and her assistant, Tish Murphy, the Bridge is designed to be in full flower in every season.

Last summer my garden friend and sister blogger, Layanee DeMerchant, visited me and I brought her to the Bridge of Flowers as a last minute surprise. She was stunned. She later confessed that when I mentioned the Bridge of Flowers she imagined some little bridge hung with window box type planters. She asked how such a magnificent public planting came to be.

I explained that the bridge was originally a trolley bridge, built in 1908 to carry loads too heavy for the Iron Bridge to the railway yards. Time and the motor car brought the railway company to bankruptcy in 1927, leaving the bridge to become a weed choked eyesore.

Women cannot stand an eyesore. In 1928 Antoinette Burnham wrote a letter to the newspaper and suggested that it become a bridge of flowers. The Shelburne Falls Women’s Club sponsored the project and the Shelburne Falls Fire District purchased the bridge. Even with the trolley gone, the bridge is important because it contains the water main which brings water to Buckland.

In 1929 eighty loads of loam  and fertilizer were put on the bridge. All the work was donated.

To this very day the Bridge of Flowers depends on donated labor. Those laborers call themselves The Flower Brigade. Twice a week throughout the season they put on their old clothes and garden gloves and set to work. Some are members of the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club, but many are local gardeners who enjoy taking part in making the bridge beautiful all season.

Some volunteers are not so local. Karen Winkler comes up from Connecticut to plant and weed every week. She regularly visited friends in Easthampton and heard about the Bridge of Flowers but said she always avoided it, thinking, like my friend Layanee, that it was just a bridge with a few planters. “Then I read the Recorder article about vandalism on the Bridge a couple of years ago. I went to the website and learned what the Bridge was and that anyone could volunteer. I think this is a true community garden – where everyone takes care of everything, not just their own plot.”

Maureen Flaherty of Charlemont has been volunteering for the past four years or so. “I love it. There is such a great group of people who are all interested in flowers. The head gardener Carol Delorenzo is so knowledgeable.  It is a great community effort. This is a wonderful place to work aesthetically: it almost becomes a Zen experience,” she said.

Maureen Moore said she admired the Bridge when she moved here six years ago, but never thought about how it was maintained. “I just took it for granted. Then three years ago I realized it was a volunteer effort.  I decided to volunteer so I could have some bragging rights. It is good to know you are contributing to something so special. Besides it is fun to see all the visitors from so far away,” she said.

Penny Spearance is a new member of the Women’s Club and said she “would like to be a gardener.”  There are enough skilled gardeners working on the Bridge that this is certainly a good place to share information and learn.  “I don’t like to belong to an organization without participating,” she said.

The Bridge of Flowers gives a large community of women the opportunity to bring beauty to the wider community.  Volunteers don’t need to sign up or commit to any regular schedule. All they have to do is show up on Wednesday evening from 5 to 7 pm or Friday morning from 9 to 11 am. Directions and tools will be waiting for them.

The Bridge of Flowers May 6, 2011

The members of the Bridge of Flowers committee will be very busy volunteering next week as they prepare for the big Annual Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale. This famous sale will beheld on Saturday, May 14 at the Trinity Church’s Baptist Lot on Main Street in Shelburne Falls from 9 am til noon.  I remember the first time I attended this sale and was told that I must not touch a plant until the opening bell!  Now I am early to set up the sale, and make sure no one touches.

In addition to plants off the Bridge or from local gardens, tools from OESCO, nursery propagated wildflowers from Hillside Nursery, Nancy Dole’s books, Steve Earp’s pottery and John Sendlebach’s garden art will also be on sale.  A new booth will hold cards by Michael Naldrett, Polly French, Jane Wegscheider, and Wild Art, prints by Nina Coler, Mojo beads, Don Wheeler’s birdhouses, and lavender products from Johnson Hill Farm. Something for everyone. Don’t Be Late!

Between the Rows   May 7, 2011

7 comments to The Flower Brigade

  • Lisa at Greenbow

    What a wonderful project. It is an inspiration to many no doubt.

  • Pat

    Lisa – The Bridge of Flowers is one of the most wonderful public gardens I know of!

  • It looks amazing. I hope the plant sale was a success!

  • Pat

    Lucinda – the plant sale was a great success! Thanks to the work and energy of a lot of people.

  • I am catching up on blog reading and this one woke me right out of reverie since that day with you and my Mom on the Bridge of Flowers(anything that beautiful deserves capitol letters)will be a high memory. I do remember asking what season was best and I do clearly remember the reply. I hope to see the bridge in all seasons. It is a glorious bridge. Thank you for that day. It was very special.

  • Pat

    Layanee – Every season is wonderful. I have a really had time answering the people who email the BOF with that question. The only way ‘best season’ might be answered is if you especially love bulbs or roses or dahlias or some such and want that season.

  • What a great project.

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