With a Palette of Perennials, a Greenway Gets Color
By Laura Stark
Like the petals of a flower, the organization known as Botanical Blossomings on the Bikeways USA (BBB-USA) is starting to unfurl. The nonprofit corporation, founded by artist FreDDie Senser-Lee, took off nearly a year ago to spur the development of trailside gardens across the country in what he calls a "community unity opportunity."
"I look at a flower as a piece of sculpture," says Senser-Lee. "You have shape, dimensions, perspective views, and movement. It's a piece of art."
Senser-Lee certainly wears his creative spirit on the outside, too, often dressed in a riot of color with wisps of thick blond hair framing his face. Although his glasses aren't rose-colored, his perspective is. "Gardening gets you in touch with yourself," he says. "And biking does the same thing. When you breathe the fresh air, you get a spiritual high, you feel better about yourself than before you did it. Biking gives the same energy as working with the earth."
When we talked in February, Senser-Lee was eagerly waiting for the ground to warm up to do some planting. His idea for BBB-USA started with the Warren County Bikeway a 10-mile rail-trail that begins near his home in South Glens Falls and stretches north to Lake George in eastern New York. Because the lake is such a draw, Senser-Lee says a tremendous amount of cyclists travel on the trail and he invites them to pack a bulb or seeds from where they live and add them amongst his flowers.
Senser-Lee received permission from the county to create these trailside gardens. This season, rose bushes, sunflowers and Black-eyed Susans (the official county flower) will feature prominently. Inspired by Glen Falls native and celebrity cook, Rachael Ray, he will also be adding edible flowers, such as bachelor's buttons, hollyhocks, and impatiens, to BBB-USA gardens this year.
"When I'm out there planting, the most consistent comment I get is: 'That's just what the trail needed: color!'" says Senser-Lee. "As beautiful and pristine as it is, the trail looks the same year after year. It's very green, but there's no other color. Being a visual person, I wanted to see some color."
His interest in flowers started as a young boy when his grandmothers, who shared their passion for gardening with Senser-Lee, would take him and his twin sisters—now both horticulturalists—to flower shows. For Senser-Lee, it was love at first sight. "I've never heard anybody say, 'Oh, that's an ugly flower.'"
The work won't end with the Warren County Bikeway, though. Senser-Lee plans to continue planting along other trails in communities all the way to New York City to gain momentum for the initiative throughout the state and the country. He already has permission from neighboring Saratoga County to plant along the Zim Smith Trail, which connects several towns south of Saratoga Springs.
He hopes his work will serve as an inspiration for others and spread like wildflowers to other trails. If a person is interested in supporting the effort at the local, state, or national level, email him at email@example.com, or leave a message on his home phone, 518-798-0234, and he'll aim to respond within 24 hours.
Local businesses and other groups are also supporting the growth of the project, and Senser-Lee is actively looking for volunteers nationwide. He says it involves getting permission to plant flowers along a trail from the local trail's managing agency (this is typically a city or county government), selecting the flowers to grow, and planting them. His organization makes the project more alluring to local officials by covering BBB-USA-affiliated sites and gardeners with a liability policy should anyone get hurt planting along a trail. Send him photographs of a trail and he'll also give advice about what plants might look good in that particular environment.
"One of the best things about the project is that it's very doable," says Senser-Lee. "It doesn't take much, just a shovel and a little hard work."
Visit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Trailbuilding Toolbox to learn more about how you can plan, design and build trailside gardens in your area.