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

Making Space

Sunrise at Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary

I arose well before dawn, packed camera and tripod, and drove to Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary in Easton,PA.  Mine was the only car in the parking lot, and I saw no one else except three wild turkeys as I hiked through woods filled with birdsong.  I had in mind to photograph a stand of trees in a meadow, pre-visualizing an image of their dark columns rising dramatically from the misted undergrowth.  While setting up the shot, I turned and saw this view down the path I had walked minutes earlier.  Another few minutes and it was gone.

I gave myself space that day, and time, and permission to deviate from the plan.  It’s hard to break a habit of lifelong schedules, plans, productivity goals, and general busyness.  But I’m trying to leave more open space in my life and in my mind, to let experiences and images drift in and out, to perhaps see beyond what I thought was there.

I emerged from the forest bug-bitten, sweaty and happy, my only other goal that day to have a cup of coffee at a nearby riverside diner.

P. S.  I am moving to Providence RI in less than two weeks!  I expect to have a busy life there, filled with family, new friends, explorations into the local arts and culture.  But I will also make space for quiet unplanned days, take time for second looks, and welcome whatever thoughts and images may come.