Warmth and blooming flowers all winter long
Providence, R.I., boasts new England’s largest garden conservatory.
This is the season when cold-climate gardeners gaze upon the remains of their flower and vegetable beds, so splendid in July, and see only “strangled clutter in the chilly air,” as the poet Mary Clare Powell observes.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
For most New Englanders, who live in a region where interior gardens and conservatories are scarce, autumn marks a descent into a long spell of floral deprivation, interrupted only by the desperately awaited thwack of the next garden catalog or magazine dropping through the mail slot.
Enter the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center, the largest garden conservatory in New England. Now midway through its second year, the center, located in the city’s Victorian-era Roger Williams Park, opened in March 2007.
The center houses collections of tropical and semitropical species, fountains, and pools in a 12,000-square-foot garden under glass. It’s operated by the city of Providence in partnership with several plant societies and the University of Rhode Island College of the Environment and Life Sciences Outreach Center, which runs the botanical center’s educational programs.
The climate-extending displays (outdoors, it’s USDA hardiness Zone 6) and sun-warmed spaces have already bedazzled thousands of local visitors and tourists, but news of the garden’s existence is still trickling to the outer reaches of the region.
As it turns out, now is a great time to visit. Spring and fall (September through November) are the two major bloom periods, says Jo-Ann Bouley, educational program manager for the university. From cacti to orchids to flowering trees such as the Brazilian purple glory tree (Tibouchina granulosa), plants from all over the world are putting on a show.
“Visitors will see flowers in purples, reds, pinks, magentas, lavenders, and whites, and fruits in orange and green,” Ms. Bouley says. “A few of the cacti are blooming right now, but the blooms generally last only one day.”
A host of orchids – Paphiopedilum, Phalaenopsis, Oncidium, and Dendrobium – send out cascades of blossoms in fall. “We also have Vanilla planifolia, the vanilla orchid, which is the source of commercially available vanilla extract and the only orchid that gives us a food crop,” Bouley says.