Roger Williams Park Botanical Center Reminds Us of Seasons to Come

plantsThe tail end of a New England winter can be excrutiating. From potholes assaulting your tires every half mile (when there isn’t a sheet of ice on the road worthy of figure skating conditions) to mountains the size of the Abominable Snowman on your front lawn … if I said it all grows old fast, I’d be too kind.

I speak for us all when I say we’re over it. It’s time to move on from our love/hate affair with the snow gods. The snow is suffocating tree spirits and dulling green thumbs. We can’t burrow our kale seeds in our backyards, nor can we tangle our limbs against sycamore arms.

And that’s when the Botanical Center at Roger Williams Park becomes a sanctuary — snowless grounds worth worshipping.

I’d never been before, but it seemed like a pretty good idea. At the very least, the depressive nature of icicle-inducing temps would ebb from me (for a little while). I lack a garden of my own, but I’ve always been fond of plant life. All of Mother Nature’s creations fascinate me beyond understanding. Each plant is its own world, adapting and thriving amongst its brothers, sisters and cousins. As bitter as our little Rhody has been, I’d almost forgotten what anything’s blooming season looked like. I was ready for a refresher.

Ticket in hand, I trekked up a winding path of mini snow banks toward the center’s glass walls. I regretted my typical winter-ready three layer outfit the second I walked in. A wave of warmth caressed my frozen face — something the winter months causes one to forget. The pond fixture in the middle of the main building’s first room suddenly looked like an ice cold swimming pool in mid-July. Definitely not your typical thought in late winter!

My eyes fell on precious baby pineapples sprouting their little green mohawks out of leafy cradles. Each fruit was surrounded by a bold patch of “Wandering Jews.” In the moment, I couldn’t quite figure out why these droplet-shaped leaves would be known by such a name. The “Wandering” bit is no mystery — the small plant stretches itself out in every direction. They’re known to dive about their surroundings, extending every which way and leaping over their neighbors in the process. Outside of its metaphor-bound creation story, the plant’s attachment to Judaism is nonexistent. I feel the leaves bear more likeness to the backs of small frogs. Each leaf wears three thin green and purple-tinged stripes that dip down along either side to meet at an ending tip. The frogs, as I saw them to be, climbed up along the cracks in the bark of a neighboring Elephant Foot tree and wrapped around the young pineapples.

As I walked away to pluck up interest elsewhere, I noticed a woman painting portraits of the dracena terminalis plants across from her. I smiled and nodded in her direction, silently sharing a moment of botanical mesmerization. The tall burgundy leaves barely reached my waist, and yet towered over their bed’s companions. The plant’s dominance over its patch certainly put the Wandering Jews to shame. I could understand why a painter would be enraptured by such a presence.

Until hell freezes over (or the snow completely melts — whichever comes first), a New Englander will never be able to stretch his/her legs out in front of blooming orchids in late winter. But I did. I sat down directly in front of a blanket of blossomed flowers rich in cheery hues. Nearby, bushy Foxtail Ferns whipped over the edges of their designated camps. Not far off, yet another artist sat at the helm of an easel. This time, the haven was a jungle of feathered palm tree leaves. As I walked past her, a hanging basket of flowers tickled my forehead and suddenly I realized the weight of the air. Winter had turned to spring, and spring to summer — all in the length of a room.

In true northerner fashion, I felt like a walking puddle. I needed some fresh air. A foreign, unfamiliar face stood like a bouncer by the exit I was approaching. He lacked a name badge, but his prickly, outstretched arms and elongated nose reminded me of Pinocchio. I may be Rhode Island-bred, but I know what a cactus is. I also know how absolutely bizarre it is to see a healthy desert-dweller in this neck of the woods. It was impossible to lose consciousness of where I was in spite of this rare sighting. Just as I made the cactus’s acquaintance, I noticed a fringe of icicles lining the lip of the greenhouse’s roof. Little by little, the icicles began to drip away, reminding me, if only for a moment, that spring is on its way. All I needed was a trip to the Botanical Center to see that there is progress in the battle against winter!

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