By Daniel Hales
Do you have a favorite flower? A dozen favorite flowers? Want to be horticulturally promiscuous and meet dozens of gorgeous, sexy new flowers all at once? There is no better place for amorous encounters with wildly diverse flora than the Bridge of Flowers. No list of the Seven Wonders of Franklin County is complete without this blossoming bridge. The former trolley bridge connecting Shelburne Falls and Buckland is an architecturally lovely structure, built on elegant, curving arches across the Deerfield River. But you’d be forgiven for not fully appreciating the underside of the bridge on your first visit due to the abundance of beauty on top of the bridge--beauty so abundant it cascades over the sides of the bridge as well. Hundreds of flowers, shrubs, and flowering trees bloom in a riot of color and fragrance the length of the bridge.
It may be a riot of color, but despite the dense proliferation of plant life it supports, the bridge is anything but chaotic thanks to the heroic boots-on-the-ground efforts of the Blossom Brigade and its commanding officers: head gardener Carol Laliberte DeLorenzo and her assistant, Elliston Bingham. For the last twenty years DeLorenzo has been caretaker of this suspended garden, but also the artist of a stunning work of art that is never fully finished, constantly changing and evolving from season to season, year to year. Or as she put it: “the bridge is my canvas, and the flowers and plants are my palette. While I have free rein to plant as I choose, within the constraints of a yearly plant budget, I do listen to suggestions and am often inspired by the vision and interests of others.” This vision is shared by the Bridge of Flowers Committee and the Blossom Brigade, which consists of six to twelve volunteers: fellow artisans and curators whose varied behind-the-scenes work is also hugely important to maintaining the flowering bridge.
When asked about her favorite flowers, DeLorenzo’s answer made it clear that this isn’t just a job for her: “I love the exuberance of magnolia trees absolutely smothered in blossoms, the drama of tall spires of cobalt blue delphiniums, and the elegance and surprise of large-flowering clematis vining through neighboring shrubs, trees, and fencing.”
And if wisteria makes you fall into a wistful reverie, and weeping hemlock makes your eyes all misty and distant, you can thank Elliston Bingham, who Delorenzo calls “gardener extraordinaire and master of ingenuity! Some of the more exquisite work is his, including the artful pruning of the wisteria and weeping hemlocks.” If you want to thank these ingenious masters in person, visit the bridge in the early morning hours, when the mist is on the river below, since that’s when they tend to work, before the bridge comes alive with visitors.
Whether you prefer morning glories at dawn or evening primrose at dusk, the Bridge of Flowers has you covered. No matter what time of day you cross the bridge, just make sure to leave yourself enough time to stop and swoon. I love to visit the bridge most after dark. One of my more memorable bridge experiences was shortly after enjoying a movie at Pothole Pictures in Memorial Hall. I crossed the Bridge to enjoy a drink at the West End Pub--which has an excellent view of the bridge. As I re-crossed the bridge, I found myself close behind a racoon who was commuting from Buckland to his third shift job in Shelburne Falls. But even without wildlife encounters, the bridge at night is a wondrous place for reveries, transcendent visions, making out with your sweetheart, or simply inhaling the aroma of earthly paradise while the moon’s reflection ripples on the river.