A Kale, Black-eyed Susan and Gladiola Bike Ride


While taking my bike for a little spin on a recent cobalt blue sky Berkshire day, two very different gardens and one flower stand caught my eye. There was something special about them. For me, they also reflected  a Berkshire spirit. Quite different in plant material: from ornamental to edible, they shared, however, a certain modesty.

Towards the end of my bike ride when I stopped by a flower stand all about gladioli, I made a vow to return with my camera. (How many times have I made such promises and not followed through? Of course, the clear day made it even easier.)

Rushing home all sweaty, I switched my bike shorts for more comfortable ones, grabbed my new super light “mirrorless” camera, hopped in our red Prius and headed back to Alford just down the road.

Alford, a pristine jewel of a New England village is known for its biking, in particular its 12 mile “loop” which wraps around a valley peppered with farms and framed by Tom Ball Mountain. Adding to its beauty is how it has managed to maintain its identity, call it cachet, since the 18th century. With a "downtown" consisting all of an elegantly proportioned white steepled church, a clapboard town hall, a one room school house and a cemetery, it appears set in a time capsule. No gas station, coffee shop, post office or even general store. Breaking the spell today though was a massive RV in front of the cemetery... Oh well…I could still photograph the church.

Other reminders of the 21st century were the discrete  signs with “Alford Broadband Initiative” here and there including one by the fire station. It seems to have taken a only time to catch up with neighboring towns.

How does this relate to my garden ride? Well, there’s a new type of a garden in town which also reflects the times. Or so I thought. While whizzing by earlier I assumed it was a newly created community vegetable and fruit garden with well-laid out solid, wooden raised beds in the center of an expansive, well-mowed lawn. With no driveway, adjacent house, fence, or “Keep Out” sign, it was quite inviting. And, like broad-band cable it was a message that “times they are a’changin’.”

Of course, Victory gardens were a staple during World War II. While they disappeared and lawns became the norm, over the past few years growing produce on empty inner city lots has taken off. For sure this property is the antithesis of an empty city lot. In fact, over the years it was my impression that his lovely, oval shaped land was a Town Commons.

Today, a portion of it is now displaying healthy kale, chard, tomatoes, beans, nasturtium, and marigolds, among others. I wasn’t alone in my admiration when I overheard a biker saying “What a cool garden!” to his fellow biker.

Intrigued by it, I later learned from an Alford resident that it’s  private. The good news is that mowing a lawn is no longer a priority today. Of course, some places haven’t caught up: growing produce on one’s front lawn is frowned up, even banned in certain fancy suburbs…

My next stop was an expanse of Black-eyed Susans on someone's lawn. In their bright golden and black glory they couldn’t help but make you squeeze your brakes, jump off a bike or get out of a car and stare. Having returned I gingerly began to photograph the extravaganza from the road. As someone was coming out on the driveway, I asked for permission to photograph. Soon, I was kindly invited to the owners’ porch. There I shook hands with Nancy Van Deusen, a family that dates back to the early Dutch settlers.

Standing by was her 7 year old grandson. With a broad smile he jumped on a railing and in a few moments invited me to visit his fort. He also gave me a little tour of the gardens enveloping it. Just as I began to follow him, Nancy said: “I started all this with four small pots.” 

Heading back home now, I stopped by the gladiola flower stand on the Sweets’ tree farm.  Another snapshot of the past flooded me: our kids cutting a Christmas tree in their field. Today, I simply chose some yellow, orange and peach gladiolas and left a few dollars in a slot. $1 per gladiola or 6 for $5. What a deal.

About an hour later, my husband David and I found ourselves in yet another world of flowers: The Berkshire Botanical Garden’s annual Fete des Fleurs. Here we were sipping cold white wine and peering at fanciful flower arrangements sporting exotic South African Proteas, Tilandsias and red Ginger flowers. No Black-eyed Susans or gladioli though.