- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — New England’s largest indoor public display garden has opened here in a historic park, and officials expect it to become a regional center for learning about plants as well as a top attraction for visitors.

The glass-walled Roger Williams Park Botanical Center, which opened March 2, offers a tropical garden, an orchid garden and a Mediterranean room with a collection of citrus trees. Fountains and ponds dot the landscape.

The real draw on a day when cold rain is flooding the streets of Providence is the lush green and warm interior, filled with fragrant and unusual plants.

“It’s plush. It’s beautiful,” says Susan Ainsworth of South Kingstown, a retired schoolteacher. “It’s lovely to be in here on this otherwise dreary day.”

Her friend, Karen Asher, president of the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society, describes herself as “plant-obsessed.”

“It’s fun to see all these tropical plants,” Miss Asher says. “It’s like this little fantasy land in here. You could pretend you’re in Hawaii.”

The center has 12,000 square feet of space and rotating horticultural displays. The plants are in two glass structures connected by an enclosed hallway. The collection includes 40-year-old cactuses, a fragrant jasmine plant and a bog that contains carnivorous plants, such as pitcher plants, some with 6-inch-long “pitchers” to trap prey.

“There is one so big that it can trap and consume a rat,” says Jo-Ann Bouley, educational program manager at the center.

Roger Williams Park, named for the city’s 17th-century founder, also has a zoo and a carousel on its 430 acres. The landscaped Victorian-era park already attracts more than 2 million visitors a year, and Providence Mayor David Cicilline says he expects the new botanical center to become a destination on its own and “attract visitors to Providence from throughout the Northeast.”

The botanical center has two classrooms and will offer gardening and composting classes provided by the University of Rhode Island.

The project cost $7.7 million to build and was funded by state, federal and city governments as well as a $1 million grant from the Champlin Foundations. Keith Lang, executive director of the foundations, says the center adds to the green space at the park and bolsters its educational offerings. “I think the thing that really attracted us was the educational component,” he says. “This was an aesthetically pleasant place to be, but at the same time, it was going to involve a lot of people in getting to know the environment.”

Allison Barrett, a science teacher at the Lincoln School in Providence, came with her 5-year-old grandson, Wilson Jensen. “I was thinking next fall, I’d bring my students,” she says.

An educator and artist, Raffini, says she also plans to bring her students here as they learn about plants and begin a project to plant a garden they can use to grow their own food. She also wants to come on her own, she says. “I’m loving it. I’m loving all the tropical plants. We can come here and chill out.”

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Roger Williams Park Botanical Center, Providence, R.I.; www.providenceri.com/ botanical-center or Providence Parks Department, 401/785-9450. Adults, $3; children 6 to 12, $1. Open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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