A Historical Rhode Island Rhododendron Garden

Gleaner Rhododendron Gardens, North Scituate, Rhode Island

 

In 1999 newlyweds Cindy and Chuck were on a mission. Their quest? To find their dream home and gardens. Both worked for the Department of Environmental Management and were not only gardeners, but the educated, degree holding, passionate, trained avid variety kind of gardener. Cindy scoured the online real estate listings for months looking for the key words: land, gardens, cottage. They knew they didn’t want flat open farm land but something that had form on which they could base their own dreams.

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They got the call from their realtor to meet them at a potential property.  They arrived to find an empty cottage with three badly overgrown acres. While  meandering around, they spotted several  rhododendrons, at least five varieties by their estimation, and immediately knew that this jungle had once been some kind of loved garden. It called out to them.  Later they would say that it was fate that brought them there.

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They spent that first winter renovating the early 1900′s cottage.  The gardens were out of their minds until the following Spring when the Rhododendrons gardens began to bloom. One by one, different varieties began appearing majestically around them.   When the final count came in, they had found over 100 varieties of rhododendrons, rare and common hybrids. They were in their own personal Shangri-la.

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Cindy began her research. This garden was obviously not a mistake and she and Chuck were determined to find out everything they could about it. They had purchased the property from the widow of George  Howarth, whom they discovered was one of the founding members of the Massachusetts Rhododendron Society and had begun these gardens in the 1950′s. The big surprise came when they uncovered the fact that George Howarth also worked for the Department of Environmental Management, the same place they worked. In addition, he was credited with designing many of Providence’s public parks. Cindy and Chuck think that it was when he became involved in the restoration of the Sandwich, Massachusetts property of hybridizer, Charles O. Dexter, that George Howarth received cuttings of the many Dexter varieties evident in the gardens today.

Identification was elusive until Cindy met an old friend of George’s who informed her that not only was he a meticulous record keeper but each plant was wire tagged at its base.  Cindy and Chuck spent the better part of that summer on their hands and knees finding tags and identifying over 120 varieties of Rhododendrons and many Mountain Laurel as well.  The complete beauty of this garden lies in the fact that George , and subsequently Cindy and Chuck, had the creativity and knowledge to intermingled the rhododendrons with other compatible trees including Chinese Golden Chain (Laburnum), a Japanese Umbrella Tree (Sciadopitys verticillata),Japanese Cedars (Cryptomeria), Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), Stewarti, and Metasequoia  (metasequoia glyptostroboides) to name a few.

If those names and all these varieties mean nothing to you, the beauty of the garden will surely find a place in your hear..  This is one garden worth making a pilgrimage to see.  Cindy and Chuck open the gardens up to the public during Memorial Day week-end every year.  It is free of charge.  It is their gift to others just as these gardens were George Howarth’s gift to them.

For more information on Gleaner Gardens, click.

Francesca – photo by Joe Keller

Dexter’s Cream – Photo by Joe Keller

Blue Peter – Photo by Joe Keller

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Photography:  Joe Keller of Keller & Keller Photography, Cynthia Bogart, field editor

The original story was run for Traditional Home Magazine

 

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  1. 05/23/2012 at 9:11 am

    This brings back such memories of my time in Ireland as a child! I remember playing at a home with enormous rhododendrons, we were able to hide and seek within them! They were amazing!! Thanks for the wonderful post!

  2. Liz Kelley
    05/24/2012 at 7:11 pm

    Cynthia, thanks so much for remembering Gleaner Gardens’ annual event. Another one to see in Rhode island is Kinney Azalea Garden in North Kingstown. They enlarge it every year. It was also started by someone fascinated with horticulture and his family carries on the tradition.

  3. The Daily Basics
    05/25/2012 at 8:17 am

    One of my favorite shoots for Traditional Home was this garden – Love Cindy and Chuck and their passion!

  4. Love Albrecht Howard
    05/20/2013 at 8:20 am

    GREAT story! How wonderful Gleaner Gardens found Cindy and Chuck . . . true serendipity!!

  5. 3 of our FAVORITE British Interior Design Blogs – The Daily Basics

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