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In the Garden: At Blue Q

In the Garden: At Blue Q

Jenna has been coronated “Kale Queen” for the day. She’s beaming.

As the watering of the raised beds begins, Marissa lets it be known she, herself, does not need to be watered. (Duly noted.)

Meanwhile, word has gotten out that Julia’s birthday is on Sunday. The forecast calls for gluten-free cupcakes. She now holds a clutch of fresh cut flowers and breathes in the scent. 

“Beautiful,” she says.

Beautiful, indeed. Here we have it: the patient, joyful maintenance of garden beds and friendships — and baked kale chips and assorted goodies to come.

Among the many worthy works Berkshire Botanical Garden engages in beyond its botanic borders in Stockbridge, Mass., is this weekly assemblage of positivity at the headquarters of Blue Q, in Pittsfield, Mass.

Beginning this past spring, Bridgette Stone, BBG’s director of education, has been overseeing the planting and upkeep of Blue Q’s 12 raised garden beds. She has also masterminded the planters in the adjacent pergola, each of which contain a merriment of fanciful flora. Those planters, that pergola, form a Blue Q oasis, a gathering spot with a table large enough to fit 18 pizzas and the eaters of 18 pizzas. Incidentally, Blue Q’s stylish garden beds were designed several years ago by Matt Larkin, chairman of BBG’s Board of Trustees and a longtime pal of Mitch Nash, who, with his brother Seth, founded Blue Q in 1988.

Joining Bridgette in the garden each week is a group of Blue Q employees from Berkshire County Arc, a non-profit that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including Jenna, Marissa, Julia, and others.

Blue Q, the frolicsome creators and manufacturers of bold and benevolent gift items designed to make the mind a better place, has enjoyed a 30-year partnership with Berkshire County Arc. The employees work in Blue Q’s various departments, and their work weeks include not only gardening with BBG, but also creating art with Community Access to the Arts (CATA), a Great Barrington, Mass., nonprofit whose mission is to nurture and celebrate the creativity of people with disabilities.

“What we’re really trying to do here is give our Berkshire County Arc employees a really well-rounded work experience,” says Mitch. “It’s not just about the production and the work that they do here to help us get products out the door. It's also about helping them feel settled and a little happier. You know, maintaining the garden with Bridgette or doing art with CATA, these things have a ripple effect that goes beyond the hour that the event is happening. It all serves as kind of a casual piece of therapy for a population that needs different types of support.”

Mitch notes that the new Blue Q/BBG partnership has been full of wondrous little moments.

“One day I was out in the garden, and Bridgette was working with Julia,” he said. “I just observed the sweetest, smallest thing. They were planting. Bridget takes a plant and hands it to Julia and says, ‘Hey, Julia, this plant needs quite a bit of space. Just go find somewhere where there's lots of room.’ She didn’t tell Julia which bed to put it into or what it needed to be next to. She just gave Julia the honor to make her own choice. She empowered her. It just was so perfect.”

Bridgette says she delights in her time here, even on these heavy, heat-pressed summer days.

“We’re growing a combination of long-season and short-season crops and cut flowers,” she recently explains to a Blue Q garden visitor. “Then, at the end of our program, some of us go upstairs and usually prepare a simple salad or kale chips, some kind of snack from the garden that we share with everybody.” 

“Jenna,” says Bridgette, “do you want to do the yarrow? Remember, grab the really red ones, OK? We find the head of our flower, and we follow it down the nice long stem.”


“That's perfect,” Bridgette says. “They can go in that little jar. You can pick some more of these if you want to.” 

She continues to lead the group. 

“This right here, this is fennel. … Dig in a little bit gentler. … We have to bring our kale inside and cook it and our flowers inside so we can give them away.”

With vegetables harvested, weeds plucked and garden beds watered, the group stands in a circle and shares what they really have liked about the day so far. 

“Tasting the kale,” says Jenna.

“I like doing the garden,” says Tina. 

“I enjoyed being with everybody,” says Crystal.

“Those weeds!” says Julia.

“Being named Kale Queen,” says Jenna.

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