Between the Rows: Bridge in bloom
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 to 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 as 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.”
Anyone can have a bit of the bridge in their own garden. The Bridge of Flowers annual Plant Sale will be held next Saturday, May 18 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Trinity Church’s Baptist Lot on Main Street. Over 1,000 potted perennials, most of them from off the bridge, will be for sale, along with a selection of geraniums and annuals, special nursery propagated wildflowers from the noted Hillside Nursery and an array of garden-related items, including Mojo glass beads, Nina Color’s prints, notecards, tools and wooden spoons. A special feature of this year’s sale is an assortment of gently used ornamental pots. The sale is held rain or shine. As most veterans of the sale know, you can look at the plants, but can’t touch until 9 a.m. when the starting bell rings. Proceeds benefit the Bridge of Flowers.
You can get a head start on plant shopping. Today, May 11, the Greenfield Garden Club is holding their annual Extravaganza, with a plant sale and garden-related tag sale at Trap Plain on the intersection of Silver and Federal streets from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Proceeds benefit the educational projects of the Garden Club.
Pat Leuchtman, who is The Recorder’s garden columnist, has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her Web site: www.commonweeder.com.