By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN – What do you get when you combine members of the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society, graduates of the URI Master Gardeners program, a trio of landscape professionals, Plum Beach Garden Clubbers and a batch of cheerful volunteers?
In the wrong hands, you could have too mulch of a good thing. Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.
What actually transpired was a design for gardens linking the Beechwood senior center with the Cold Spring Community Center in a gentle wave of such native plants as witch hazel, bayberry, bee balm, beardtongue and several handsome shadblow trees.
Around 30 admirers helped dedicate the garden Sunday afternoon.
At the helm was Jules Cohen who is himself a master gardener and, until the end of 2011, served as president of the wild plant society.
“It was my project,” he says, adding that if things go according to plan, he expects to become president of the North Kingstown Senior Association. He is quick to credit other key players who helped plan and execute the design, including Sharon Iannuccilli, who heads the master gardeners, and who found herself working with Cohen when they were asked to put together a speakers’ program on horticultural topics at the center.
A trio of esteemed professionals headed by landscape architect Kevin Alverson and including Judy Ireland and Linda Sollitto tackled the design which wound up using between 350 and 400 plants in a blend of traditional in-ground techniques highlighted by strategically-placed oversized container gardens.
The town’s public works department also earned props. “They were absolutely great,” says Cohen. “They guided us, gave advice.”
Besides acquiring funds through the sale of plaque-designated shadblow trees and a gift from the Kane-Barrengos Foundation, Cohen convinced private companies to “pitch in” with items needed to complete the work. “A lot of good scrounging went on,” he says, noting that three river birch trees were among the major scores.
“We worked our way down that path. It will be a nice trail some day.”
Cohen provided sweat, too, installing a water-and-labor-saving drip irrigation system that was covered by mulch. The project received a helping hand from Mother Nature in the form of an unseasonably mild New England winter. As a result, very few plants had to be purchased.
“We used things that wintered over from the Rhode Island Flower Show and leftovers from the wild plant society’s sale.” Money that was saved was used to pay for stonework to create a retaining wall holding back a steep bank at the back of the garden.
Cohen calls the result of all the cooperation among gardening aficionados, town employees and local folks “a helluva project.”
And, like all gardens, it will always be a work in progress.
“The next thing is the rhododendron in front of the center,” he says. “It’s not happy.”
Also on the list is the possibility of creating raised beds for horticulture therapy, a very popular and successful method for stimulating the memory and senses.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN.