May 24, 2012

Bridge of Flowers

Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.

A village made up of two towns (Buckland and Shelburne) in the mountains of New England, situated on the Deerfield River where tumbling water powered the mills that clustered there beginning in the late 1700s.

The mills are gone, and an old bridge that supported a train line was eventually abandoned, but then reclaimed by the women's club in 1929.  Tons of soil were hauled up to the old bridge, and garden club volunteers planted it with vines and shrubs and small trees and many perennials.  The women's club still maintains it more than 80 years later.

They created a lush garden above the river.

It's not long, it isn't very wide, and only two people can walk together down the narrow center path.  The metal span of a bridge that carries traffic runs alongside the elegant stone-arched garden bridge, right in the center of town.  Very old climbing hydrangeas spill over the railings, rather than climb, and gnarled wisteria vines twist along an overhead support, dripping purple blooms.  Baptisias, lupines, azaleas, alliums, and peonies were blooming.  Crabapples had finished.

This is not a simple walkway of hanging baskets and petunias in barrels.  It is a world class arboretum on a bridge.

We visited on a stormy, rainy day in May.  Put on your rain slicker and walk the short span with us.









In August of last year, the bridge and its gardens were completely engulfed by floodwaters from very heavy rains after hurricane Irene.

It recovered, and on our visit we never would have known this garden perched up in the air had been underwater.

I love the fact that this garden above the river has been tended by volunteers for 80 years in a remote, out of the way village.  Less than 4,000 people live in the two towns on either side of the river --- how big can the women's club be that maintains this bridge?

It has been flooded, it was disassembled while renovations took place twenty five years ago (the plants all found temporary homes in resident's gardens, then were re-planted), and it has endured for a long, long time.

It's not a trendy new idea, a copy of The High Line in NYC or some European elevated park.  There are no specimens of new prairie grasses or garden sculptures.  There is no fee to walk across it from one side of the river to the other.

It is simple, quaint, beautifully tended for decades by people who know plants, and utterly frivolous in a working class mill town.


So much of rural New England has decayed and crumbled as Colonial era mills and farms declined over the centuries.  It's a delight to see that tiny Shelburne Falls found a new life for an old place.  And now, all these years later, The Bridge of Flowers itself has the timeless feel of an old place.



20 comments:

  1. Is this the walk that is near Pat's garden? Did you get to meet Pat too?? It is a beautiful walk. Worth getting out in the rain.

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    1. Lisa, the town she lives in is nearby (Heath, MA) and we drove through it (in the rain!) but our only stop was to see the bridge.

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  2. Laurrie, thanks for a thoughtful look at a novel place. So much to see; so little time.

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    1. Lee, I have lived in this area all my life and still haven't seen all there is to explore and find. You're right -- there is so much, so much. . . .

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  3. Often when driving to or from somewhere on I-91 I've seen the signs for the bridge and have wondered about it but have never had the time to stop. Lee is so right-so much to see and so little time. Thanks for pointing out this little gem and reminding me to make the time.

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    1. Sue, If you can take a day and wander up to the Mohawk Trail it's a fun drive. Besides the bridge there are little river towns to explore and the scenery is beautiful.

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  4. Every town needs a beautiful public garden. Go ladies club!

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    1. I know my town surely needs something like this!

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  5. What a great post Laurrie! You would never know that the bridge had been underwater at one point. The plantings are beautiful. It is amazing what a group of women working together can do.

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    1. Jennifer, that's what impressed me too --- the sustained effort of the women's club to keep this arboretum in such beautiful condition.

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  6. Thanks so much for sharing these beautiful views of this place, Laurrie! I've read about and seen this bridge on Pat's (Commonweeder) blog many times, so it's nice to see it from a visitor's perspective. I love the fact that it's been tended by volunteers for so long who do it for the sheer joy of providing beauty for others.

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    1. Rose, the bridge is well documented by others, Pat included, so I didn't think I'd add much, but I was just so impressed by it, I had to post!

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  7. The ladies who first planted the bridge would be so pleased to see how it still prospers after all these years.That is a garden club that lives up to its name! The community is fortunate to have such a special landmark and fortunate that its people realize the value of this 'frivolous' project.

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    1. Deborah, wouldn't that be great if the original women's club planners could see it now!

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  8. What a wonderful place and a wonderful story too. The womens club should be very proud of the last 80 years. I love that there is no commercial tourism aspect to this, no government agenda, no publicity or gain to anyone. They just do it because they want to. That's the kind of community we'd all benefit by living in. Inspiring post.

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    1. Lyn, There is no government agenda, but the town does publicize it pretty well through signage and their website, and they get visitors from all over the world. The benefit is tourism for the local towns, but they have kept it simple, just some restaurants, some art galleries in the old mills, and some bed and breakfast inns. It is all low key and not overly commercial, thank goodness.

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  9. Incredible! I want to go there. Now! I love little gardens like this that are all about simple, enduring beauty instead of the garden design du jour. What a testament to the toughness of plants and the soothing qualities of a garden. :o)

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    1. Tammy, you summarized its appeal so well. Put this on your list of places to see in travels to come!

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  10. I hadn't heard of this bridge before. Looks like a wonderful place to visit! There are some die hard gardeners in that town.

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    1. Sweetbay, I'm glad to introduce you to a garden you had not known of!

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