Garden Nature Trail

gardenJourney down Rhode Island’s Garden Path and enjoy three centuries of American cultivation. Historians and horticulturists have collaborated to create and preserve a wide range of period gardens. Slater Mill, Roger Williams Historic site and Smith’s Castle provide a look at gardens in Colonial Rhode Island and the role they played in the lives of early settlers.

The American Gilded Age elevated gardening to an art form as the Vanderbilt’s and Berwind’s commissioned renowned landscape architects to create some of the world finest gardens, now preserved at the famed Newport Mansions.  At Blithewold Mansion Gardens and Arboretum the Japanese water garden, English rock garden and American redwood specimens combine to create America’s largest waterfront arboretum.

Rhode Islanders take pride in their public gardens and we’ve included several fine examples on our trail. Roger Williams Park features 435 acres of manicured gardens, including a botanical garden and seasonal butterfly garden. Rare species are featured at Westerly’s Wilcox Park, designed by landscape pioneer Warren Manning.

You’ll find that our Nature Trails series includes lots of interesting options to choose from. We encourage you to customize your own trail that fits your specific interests and time frame.  Remember, if you can fit everything into one trip, that’s a great reason to plan another.


map key Slater Mill, A Living History Museum
Constructed in 1793, Slater Mill is birthplace of American industry. Learn about the people of the early industrial revolution, the tools and machines they used and the place where America changed direction. You can also learn about their everyday life by visiting the period garden at Slater Mill.

map key The Slater Mill Historic Garden Features flax for linen, vegetables for the kitchen and colorful flowers are all grown from historically correct seeds in the kitchen garden between the Sylvanus Brown House and Wilkinson Mill. 67 Roosevelt Ave., Pawtucket, 401-725-8638, www.slatermill.org

map key Slater Memorial Park
The park has full recreational facilities, including tennis courts and thirteen picnic sites. The Looff Carousel was built in 1894, installed in the park in 1910 and restored in 1978. The landscaped park includes a three-mile bike trail from Armistice Boulevard. Park gardens feature perennial and annual plantings. Pawtucket, 401-728-0500 ext. 252.

map key Roger Williams Park Gardens and Greenhouses
430-acre beautifully landscaped grounds designed by Horace Cleveland in 1878 and largely developed by 1896.  Visitors can enjoy two greenhouses, a Japanese Garden and a Rose Garden which features Canadian and Brownell hardy roses, English roses, Old Garden roses and more modern varieties. The park features a carousel, the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium, boating and botanical gardens. 1000 Elmwood Ave., Providence, 401-785-3510 www.providenceri.gov/botanical-center

map key Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum
Former summer home of Pennsylvania coal magnate Augustus Van Wickle, this charming forty-five room, turn-of-the-century mansion features thirty-three acres of beautifully landscaped grounds and gardens overlooking Narragansett Bay and historic Bristol Harbor. One of the first and most innovative arboreta in America, it features 50,000 flowering spring bulbs, a Japanese water garden, exotic bamboo stand, a display garden and the largest giant sequoia east of the Rockies, among hundreds of unusual plantings. 101 Ferry Rd., Rte.114, Bristol, 401-253-2707, www.blithewold.org

map key Colt State Park
Picturesque three-mile drive around shoreline of the former Colt family estate located on the east side of Narragansett Bay. Beautifully landscaped park features ornamental shrubbery, marsh grasses, a variety of mature trees, and spectacular bay view.  Facilities include playing fields and picnic areas. Saltwater fishing permitted. Rte. 114, Bristol, 401-253-7482, www.riparks.com/colt.htm

map key Linden Place
This 1810 Federal-style mansion, designed by Rhode Island architect Russell Warren, is located on 1.8 acres in the center of the Bristol Historic Waterfront District and is surrounded by rose gardens and nineteenth-century sculpture. It was the residence of the Dewolf/Colt Family for 177 years. Historic outbuildings include a 1902 ballroom building, nineteenth-century carriage barn and eighteenth-century summer house. 500 Hope St., Bristol, 401-253-0390, www.lindenplace.org

map key Green Animals Topiary Garden
Green Animals is the oldest and most northern topiary garden in the United States. There are eighty pieces of topiary throughout the gardens, including twenty-one animals and birds in addition to geometric figures and ornamental designs, sculpted from California privet, yew and English boxwood. Other varieties include espaliered fruit trees, a rose arbor and formal flower beds. The main house offers a small children's vintage toy display. Cory's Ln., Portsmouth, 401-847-1000, www.newportmansions.org 

map key The Elms
Magnificent estate of the late E.J. Berwind, Philadelphia coal magnate was designed by Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer and is modeled after the early eighteenth-century Chateau d' Asnieres near Paris. Formal sunken garden designed by French landscape architect, Jacques Greber. Separate admission for Behind-the-Scenes Tours and seasonal lunch garden tour also available. Bellevue Ave., Newport, 401-847-1000, www.newportmansions.org

map key Rosecliff
Rosecliff was named in honor of the "American Beauty" rose which was developed by the owner of the previous cottage on the site. The rose garden, dating back to the previous owner and features is a sizable planting of "America," a climbing rose. Beds of begonias ornament the entrance and a central path and fountain. Bellevue Avenue, Newport, 401 847-1000 www.newportmansions.org

map key South County Museum
Unique museum with seven interactive exhibit buildings where visitors can experience nineteenth-century life as it was in the towns, on the farms and on the sea. Costumed interpreters and traditional artisans bring the Victorian era alive. Strathmore St.,,Narragansett, 401-783-5400, www.southcountymuseum.org

map key Smith's Castle
The 1678 plantation house is on the site of a trading center established by Roger Williams. The living museum house is surrounded by lovely grounds and gardens including an eighteenth century herb and flower garden. The site was recently declared a National Landmark site for its archeological discoveries. 55 Richard Smith Dr., North Kingstown, 401 294-3521.

map key Wilcox Park
Wilcox Park is owned and maintained by the Memorial and Library Association of Westerly.  The land was originally donated in 1898 by Harriet Wilcox in memory of her husband, Stephen Wilcox.  The park was designed by Warren H. Manning, a former associate of Frederick Law Olmsted.  Harriet Wilcox envisioned the area as a walking park to be enjoyed by the hard working citizens of Westerly.  Manning incorporated much of the existing flora into its scheme, creating an oasis in downtown Westerly that is today considered a Medallion Park. The park has unique species of trees, a dwarf conifer collection, and perennial and annual flower beds, fountain, monuments, day lily collection and perennial borders. 44 Broad St., Westerly, 401-596-2877, www.westerlylibrary.org


Great side trips for gardeners

  • Enjoy tours and wine tastings at Newport Vineyards and Winery, Greenvale Vineyards and Sakonnet Vineyards, all located within a twenty minute drive of each other, and close to many gardening sites in Newport County.
  • Stop by Rhode Island’s newest winery, Langworthy Farm Winery in Westerly, after exploring gardens in South County.
  • Try the fine Pinot Noir at Diamond Hill Vineyards, where they grow ten acres of the classic French grape.

Did you know…

  • Green Animals Topiary Garden, in Portsmouth, is the oldest and most northern topiary garden in the United States.

  • Historian and diplomat George Bancroft, a former owner of Rosecliff Mansion, was an amateur horticulturist and developed the American Beauty Rose.

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You can fine-tune your gardening skills or just relish the exquisite and colorful beauty of a well-kept garden at numerous shows, tours, favors and seminars around the state.  Check out www.VisitRhodeIsland.com or these web sites for dates and details: www.blithewold.org  www.secretgardentour.com www.slatermill.org

The University of Rhode Island’s Master Gardener Program is a fabulous tool that any gardener can utilize. The association offers a gardening hotline and a website chock-full of tips for the gardening enthusiast. 800-448-1011 (gardening experts available March–Dec.), www.urimga.org