Coaxing Plants – and People – to Grow

Impressionistic view of a perennial border at RWP Botanical Center

Shortly after we moved to Providence RI, my sister-in-law Karen sent me a flyer announcing a photography contest running throughout the summer at the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center.  Jeff and I visited the park early on a warm, humid Sunday morning in August, with me thinking that I’d wander around the garden a bit and plan what I might snap and submit for judging.  The Botanical Center was closed until 11:00 a.m. (so much for my planning skills), but as we were looking through the fence we met Master Gardener and park volunteer Holly R.

Holly’s big smile and friendly manner drew us in, and we chatted through the fence about soil, climate, invasive plants, and the often-frustrating challenge of coaxing plants to grow where and how you want them to grow.  We were charmed  by Holly’s enthusiasm for gardening in general and for this garden in particular.  Despite our previous pledges to each other to not make commitments right away in our new town, we both agreed to come to the Botanical Center the following Thursday to join the “Green Team” volunteers for a morning of orientation and garden maintenance.  Thursday dawned bright and hot, and we packed our trowels, gloves and kneeling pads, threw some shovels in the back of Jeff’s truck, and drove to the garden.  The gardening group that day comprised Holly and a few other Master Gardeners, some non-credentialed backyard gardeners like Jeff and me, and some individuals and helpers from the RI Perspectives program, an organization which helps differently-abled young adults find ways to contribute to community life.

We learned how to identify and dispatch the dreaded Pokeweed.  We discussed the grave importance of carefully extracting the roots of any weed whenever humanly possible rather than just yanking it out to make things look neat.  We touched on the art of pruning, a task that is restricted to the Master Gardeners, for good reason.  Then we fanned out across the garden, each of us picking an area to weed.

A greenhouse beckons
A greenhouse beckons

Over the weeks the Thursday Green Team has evolved and specialized a bit, with volunteers gaining more confidence in identifying weeds.  We’ve learned that the term “weed” can include a garden plant that has popped up in the wrong place.  (This is a tough concept to internalize; it’s hard to pull up a lone pretty flower blooming amongst a swath of boring green groundcover.)  The RI Perspectives group has taken over the large ornamental pots and urns, filling them with colorful late-summer-into-fall flowers and foliage plants.  New volunteers have joined the group, and we’ve become quite a convivial bunch.  Holly circulates among us, joking, cheerleading, and instructing as needed.

Jeff has been a very dedicated volunteer, not missing a single Thursday morning.  I have not been as consistent or productive a worker, having been troubled lately with some pesky arthritis pain in my knees and hands.  About the photography contest: I did submit several photographs.  I didn’t win any of the prizes, but I loved roaming around with my camera in the perennial gardens and greenhouses of this beautiful place that feels a little like my own garden now.

Point and counterpoint
Point and counterpoint

More about Roger Williams Park: The Botanical Center is a very small part of this unique and wonderful urban oasis, nicknamed “The People’s Park”.  Roger Williams Park also has a zoo, a Victorian-style carousel, an extensive network of walking paths, quaint footbridges spanning small lakes, manicured grounds perfect for concerts and picnicking, a museum of natural history, a planetarium, several historic buildings, and many artistically significant sculptures.  The original land bequest was given by the great-great-great-granddaughter of Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and champion of the separation of church and state.  The Rhode Island Foundation is leading a $10 million campaign to preserve and enhance the park.

More of my photographs from the Botanical Center

Salad Day

Edible flowers from City Farm in Providence, RI

Some Saturday mornings we walk to the Hope Street Farmers Market in Lippitt Park.  It’s a longish walk from our house, about a mile, but we enjoy looking at the houses along the way, noting paint colors and landscaping ideas that we might try someday on our own home.  As we near the park we are swept up in a stream of walkers, bicyclists, and families with babies in strollers and dogs on leashes.  Many of the dogs sport colorful bandannas, and most of the adults carry reusable fabric tote bags, as they head purposefully toward the market.

First we pass the artisan booths lining the sidewalk on the street side of the park; I try to resist the attractions of beachy bohemian jewelry, ocean-themed prints, blue and green pottery.  Then we reach the tantalizing display of farmer and food artisan booths.  On the market’s web site I counted 47 food vendors!  Some of the best names: Fully Rooted, Humble Pie, The Local Catch.

Cool names aside, my favorite vendor is City Farm.  Staffed by tanned, busily efficient yet pleasant young men, the City Farm booth overflows with bagged greens of both exotic and familiar varieties, an array of dewy fresh vegetables, and sometimes berries.  A fellow shopper and waiter-in-line told me that she likes to shop there because they are a great organization and she supports their mission.  I researched City Farm later and learned that they are part of the Southside Community Land Trust, a group that helps people grow food and provides the necessary access to land, resources and education.  City Farm grows tons of organic produce in a small urban space in South Providence.  (Yes, literal tons.)  They host gardening workshops for adults and field trips for school groups, and they give away food to local soup kitchens and food pantries.

Last Saturday I noticed a few paper boxes of small flower blooms among the vegetables at City Farm.  As I was paying for my greens, I asked the handsome young farmer, “What would I do with the flowers; put them in a salad?”  He flashed an irresistible grin and said, “You could use them in a salad, or you could garnish things with them, or maybe strew them over your bed.  Anything really!”

I brought the flowers home.  I took a picture of them.  I pondered the possibilities.  That night I strewed them over … our salad.  Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.  After that, make a really good salad!

Stuff Happens in Providence RI

Empty sunroom before furniture arrives
Empty sunroom, early on our move-in day

We woke early on our move-in day, deflated the inflatable mattress we’d been sleeping on, and waited inside the empty house.   The big orange moving van rumbled up the street a little after 8:00.  Happy to see it, we also felt nervous about whether all of our furniture and boxes would fit into this house.  And the garage.  And the basement.  And the yard, if necessary.

The guys came up the walk after parking the van, with large bearded Wayne in the lead, followed by the even larger Joe and the short, stocky impassive Murphy.  They tramped around the house for a few minutes, noting all the rooms, stairs, passageways, and odd twists and turns.  Then Wayne asked me to call the police.  “The police!”, I thought, wondering if it is a crime to have a doorway that is only six feet high, as is the one at the outer entrance to our kitchen.  “The police?” I said.  Wayne told us that his van had knocked down a low-hanging tree branch a few blocks up our street, and he would rather we report the incident than have the police arrive and arrest him for leaving the scene of a broken branch.

I found the non-emergency police number and called.  A man answered, “Providence Police,” gave his operator number and said “What’s the problem?”  After I explained, he said “You on Everett?”  I said yes, and he said, “Yeah, that was reported at 8:20, and a cable was knocked down too.  National Grid is already out there working on it.”

“Oh no,” I said timidly.  “Is there anything we should do?”  To which he replied, “Nah, stuff happens!”  And then, “Hey, where are you moving from?”

Stuff happens?  Where are you moving from??  Not the response I expected, but a very welcome one.  “Bethlehem PA,” I said.  “Bethlehem,” he replied.  “I was there once, years ago.  What brings you to Rhode Island?”

We chatted a bit, with him filling me in on various Providence and Rhode Island events, including Waterfire, the Seafood Festival, the Kite Festival, the Hot Air Balloon Festival.  “There is so much to do here in the summer,” he said.  “I hope the rest of your move goes well.  Welcome to Providence!”

After I hung up, we all breathed a sigh of relief that there would be no repercussions for the damage sustained to limb.  The rest of the move-in went well.  Murphy even made a joke toward the end, something about a second truck on the way bringing the rest of our things.

Stuff happens, indeed.  It’s good to know that kindness and reasonableness also happen.  By the way, all of our furniture and boxes did fit into the house, garage and basement.  Just barely.

Empty living room
Living room
Empty office upstairs
Upstairs office