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.