URI’s new pharmacy courtyard, medicinal garden meld nature, art to create stunning public space

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Opening, rededication April 26 at 10:30, keynote lecture at noon

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 18, 2013 – The new College of Pharmacy Courtyard and Heber Youngken Jr. Medicinal Garden, a fixture for more than 50 years at the University of Rhode Island, will be opened and rededicated Friday, April 26 outside the new pharmacy building.

A stunning example of public space that draws on nature, science and art, the site is a central piece of the health and life sciences facilities in the north district of the Kingston Campus. The University will join its partner, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts at 10:30 a.m. to open the courtyard and garden, which is named after the College of Pharmacy’s founding dean. The ceremony will be held at the site, which is located to the south side of the college and between Woodward and Tyler halls.

As part of the day’s events, Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, will offer the keynote address at noon in the College’s Ernest Mario Auditorium, 7 Greenhouse Road. The lecture is free and open to the public. The nonprofit council provides education using science-based and traditional information to promote responsible use of herbal medicine.

The garden, which was located outside the college’s former home, Fogarty Hall, for most of its life, was virtually hidden from the larger community and was primarily a resource for pharmacy students and faculty, as well as other researchers interested in the healing power of plants and natural products that come from them.

Now, with 200 medicinal plants, 500 ornamental plants, 9 birch trees, sodded areas, walkways, benches shaped in the form of birch leaves and a translucent sculptural frieze featuring panels that depict plant life in laboratory slides, the courtyard and garden are places for research and respite from the demands of 21st century life.

Half of the 20,000 square-foot site is a courtyard and half is set aside for the medicinal garden. Stone and concrete walkways allow access to the adjoining spaces.

The courtyard and medicinal garden are URI’s response to the state’s requirement that each building funded by taxpayers have an element of art as part of the project. The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts funded the courtyard portion of the project. Volunteers from the Friends of the Heber Youngken Jr. Medicinal Garden did much of the planting, under the direction of Peter Morgan, senior gardener for the College of Pharmacy.

“The Youngken medicinal garden is an important part of our rich tradition in pharmacognosy (the study of pharmaceuticals from plants), and honors Dean Youngken as a pioneer of the discipline,” said E. Paul Larrat, interim dean of the College of Pharmacy. “But now with the wonderful support from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, the courtyard and garden are a combined resource for the entire University and beyond. It is more accessible, more functional and so more much a part of the interdisciplinary approach to learning here at URI.”

Elizabeth Keithline, director of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts Percent For Art Program, said “It is always an honor to work with artists of this caliber and with our partners at the University of Rhode Island. We are so pleased to see this important project come to fruition.”

She described the project as one that “progresses rhythmically from more spacious and textural plantings at the south end to a secluded sanctuary of birch trees, seating and steps at the north. Gently arcing through the entirety, visually carrying the viewer and visitor from one end to the other, is a translucent sculptural frieze of overlapping panels emerging from and then suspended above a sitting wall. The large contemporary panels, the color of the sea and reminiscent of laboratory slides, create a quiet and vital energy that informs the Garden.”

Navindra Seeram, assistant professor of pharmacy and head of the Bioactive Botanical Research Laboratory at URI, oversees the garden.

“This garden takes the University and the College back to their roots as leaders in medicinal plant research around the world,” said Seeram, who is renowned internationally for his discoveries related to blueberries, pomegranates and pure maple syrup. “The rededication of this garden emphasizes the importance of plant-based remedies over the centuries and their important role in contemporary medicine. We are delighted that even the casual visitor will now be able to learn about medicinal plants and the work we do at URI to make society healthier.”