For the past 12 years Carol DeLorenzo has been the guiding vision behind the changing bloom seasons on the Bridge of Flowers. However, she didn’t start her professional life thinking about flowers.
“After I graduated from the College of the Atlantic, I got a fellowship that allowed me to spend a year traveling around the world, focusing on agricultural issues. When I returned to the United States I got a job as co-manager of a community based farm. I was all about turnips and rutabagas, “ she said. But the farm included a pick-your-own flowers operation. “It was there I learned the value of flowers in people’s lives. I also saw that a flower garden draws people’s attention to the plants.”
After five years she left the farm and worked for landscapers in the Boston suburbs and eventually began her own landscaping company. When she was pregnant with her first child they moved to Shelburne Falls where friends rented them a house. “We never looked back after we got to the Falls,” she said. “It seemed like a natural progression that led me to a town with a Bridge of Flowers.”
Of course DeLorenzo was busy for a while with that new baby, and settling into a new town. Then, after about two years, she saw a notice that the Bridge of Flowers was looking for a new head gardener and applied for the 20 hour a week position. Soon she saw there was too much work for 20 hours and asked for an assistant. With an assistant hired the schedule was altered so that they both work 15 hours a week, more or less, depending on the season. “It is a great way to be in the community and very satisfying to garden for thousands of people,” she said. She also stressed that it takes the work of the volunteers of the Flower Brigade to keep the Bridge looking so fine.
What impresses me about the Bridge of Flowers is the number of plants that come into bloom between April and through October. First there are bulbs, blooming trees, and bunches of pansies and Johnny jump ups. There are also native wildflowers like bloodroot, and trillium. Flowering shrubs like azaleas, fothergilla and viburnam take their turn. By the end of May the Bridge is a miracle of bloom with dozens of perennials and roses, right through to dahlia and chrysanthemum season.
“Keeping the garden in full bloom is an ongoing journey and puzzle,” DeLorenzo said. “That’s where I get my satisfaction. I get to make art with plants. I’m out on the Bridge, looking at the plants, and wonder what it would be like to do this or that. And then I try it. When it works it is very satisfying. Nothing is permanent. If a particular vignette isn’t working I change it.”
I asked DeLorenzo how she managed to fit all those plants in such a limited space. “Bulbs are planted usually 2–4 inches down all through the length of the borders, into the roots of other plants. I am always root pruning shrubs so I have soil space for bulbs and other plants, but root pruning also controls the size of the shrub,” she said.
She added that “Possibly as much of 40 percent of the flowers are annuals. That is the only way to have constant bloom. The annuals provide insurance, in case some of the perennials have a bad year. But not every inch has to be in bloom every minute. If there is a short green section the eye moves on to the next colorful feature.,” she said.
DeLorenzo said her interest is in organic gardening, but the Bridge is not totally organic. She spreads an organic fertilizer in the spring and top dresses with compost. Annuals are very heavy feeders. I fertilize annuals about twice over the course of the season and use seaweed, fish emulsion and water soluble fertilizers like Peter’s.
“This garden doesn’t feed anyone, the emphasis is on bloom so I do use slug bait and neem soil and Pyola, a pyrethrum oil. We have lots of bugs that want to eat our plants, including rose chafers, but not too many Japanese beetles. We’ve put out praying mantis cases, but that is mostly for the fun,” she said.
Visitors to the Bridge this year will notice the absence of the four big crabapples. They have been replaced with new trees, a Cherokee Princess dogwood, Prairie Fire crabapple, golden chain tree, Seven Sons tree and a Chinese fringe tree, joining the many other blooming trees and shrubs.
When I asked for advice for the new gardener she was quick to say, “Start small. Let your garden grow naturally. Start at your doorstep and have fun. Too big a garden can be overwhelming and discouraging. Remember, gardening is just one way of interacting with nature.”
Between the Rows May 12,2013