Twilight tours bring botanical garden to light

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KINGSTON, R.I. – July 30, 2010 – The Dawn Redwood tree was once thought to be an extinct species known only by its fossilized remains in China. Since its rediscovery by a Chinese forester in a remote corner of Sichuan in 1941, it has enjoyed a revival.

Today, a Dawn Redwood greets visitors to the University of Rhode Island Botanical Gardens. Rooted in its spot just off Upper College Road, the tree – grown from seed distributed by the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University – is one of the centerpieces of the weekly summer Twilight Garden Tours offered at URI.

Hosted by Head Gardner Gabrielle Torphy and Horticulture Professor Brian Maynard, the hour-long tours are held each Tuesday at 5 p.m.

“It’s a chance for local gardeners to come and get to know a beautiful spot here on campus,” Torphy said. “As visitors see different types of plants and flowers, they start asking questions as they relate to their own gardens, and we get a nice, casual dialogue going.”

The tours – the brainchild of Maynard – started this summer as a way to showcase a spot on campus that is often missed by visitors. Despite its location on Upper College Road across the street from the Fine Arts Center for nearly 20 years, the 4.5-acre Botanical Gardens and the hundreds of plants and flowers within tend to go unnoticed.

“These gardens are kind of a hidden jewel on campus,” Torphy said. “What is nice is that when people discover it, we often see them come in and eat their lunch here or relax with a book.”

Among the highlights of the gardens is the outdoor classroom, which was designed and built by alumni John Manchester (’79) from the landscape architecture program. The hydrangea collection that greets visitors at the start of each tour is also a popular spot.

“Hydrangeas are very popular in this area, so we often get a lot of questions right at the start of the tour,” Torphy said. “It’s a nice ice-breaker to help visitors feel comfortable asking questions, because it’s a familiar species that people can recognize from their own gardens.”

Used occasionally for weddings and other events like photo shoots, memorial services, meetings and more, the gardens are a popular destination for art students looking to capture its hidden scenery. Many visitors often return to enjoy a quiet lunch break on the grounds.

“We get repeat visitors who will stop by just to relax and take a stroll,” Torphy said. “This is a place we want to share with the community.”

The cost for the tour is a suggested donation of $5, and children under the age of 14 can take the tour for free. To learn more about URI’s Botanical Gardens, visit or call 401.874.2900.