I couldn't resist calling in to the Garden Guys show this morning (January 27, 2008) on WHJJ 920AM because I knew the answer to the last question for listeners: From what plant do we get vanilla? Not only did I know vanilla comes from an orchid, but also I had actually SEEN the Vanilla Orchid plant four days ago right in Providence! It's native to Mexico, actually, but Madagascar is said to be the largest producer. So how can I have seen it here in the city? It's snowing out as I write this.
Well, the short answer is, I was at Roger Williams Park Botanical Center on Wednesday for training I describe below, and there was the vanilla orchid, a vine growing on trees in the orchid display. The Botanical Center opened about a year ago, a tropical oasis in New England, open Tuesday through Sunday, 11-4, for a very nominal fee. You don't need a passport or an airline ticket to get to the tropics this afternoon. Just get in the car and go to the Park. The Botanical Center is across the road from the Mounted Command.
Last year, I finally had the time to take the URI Master Gardener course, which is about 12-14 weeks long and involves a serious volunteer commitment of 50 hours to earn the title, Master Gardener (MG). It's a continuing commitment: each year to maintain "certified active Extension Master Gardener" status, MGs must attend at least 15 hours of continuing education workshops and volunteer at least 20 hours. Many MGs have hundreds and even thousands of volunteer hours. I've heard that the URI MG Association is the largest volunteer organization in the state.
The URI Master Gardeners are part of the Cooperative Extension, with a mission to provide reliable information about all things growing in Rhode Island to the public. One program I volunteered on is the Learning Landscape: a morning of hands-on exploration and discovery classes in grades K-5 at URI (outside, during the spring and early fall) and
now also in February & March at the RWP Botanical Center!
Special rates are available for Providence School Groups!
School groups from Northern RI and greater Providence can more easily participate in the Learning Landscape ~ no long bus trip to South County. Three schools have signed up so far, but if other schools want to take advantage of this program, contact the Learning Landscape Program Coordinator, Cathi Cote. It's such fun for us who lead the groups of children around the various stations, and the children love it.
Marion Gold, who oversees all of URI College of Environment & Life Sciences Outreach Programs, described the new RWPBC Learning Landscape Program recently on Channel 10, WJAR. Volunteering for programs such as this gives many opportunities to learn; and of course, explaining and sharing knowledge with others helps the memory and further deepens one's understanding of the natural world. The photo is from the Learning Landscape training this week ~ Cathi explaining how to show the specimens of animals native to Rhode Island (all of which had died naturally, by the way, and were found in time to preserve them).
The Botanical Center has a culinary area where you can see bananas growing right now, as well as cacao (chocolate), lemon, guava, avocado, Mandarin orange, and fig trees. You'll also find a carnivorous plant bog maintained by the New England Carnivorous Plant Society, which meets at RWPBC every second Saturday at 12:30. AND...
they just posted the schedule for the SPRING GARDENING SCHOOL at RWPBC, which will be Monday afternoons, 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm, April 2nd through May 21st at the RWP Botanical Center Mediterranean Room.
You wouldn't believe all that's Growing On in Rhode Island! This is just a little sample of what there is to do and see in Little Rhody.
Which reminds me ~ If you have school-aged children in Rhode Island and love gardening, be sure to get your school involved ASAP in The Children's Garden Network! They aim to help establish gardens at every school in the state. Their website just went live, and there are advantages to registering your child's school garden as soon as you can. See their website for details, and also this post from What Grows On in Rhode Island.
The Providential Gardener is working on a comprehensive online Union Calendar of RI environment-related events called WHAT GROWS ON IN RHODE ISLAND. Any and every organization planning relevant meetings is welcome to add their events to the Calendar. As the Calendar itself grows, it will be easier for folks to find out about opportunities to learn about and tend our wonderful shared Garden aka Rhode Island.