Where in the world is Blithewold? (a lovestory)

Blithewold is R.I.ght here!

Squint and you’ll see little rhody highlighted in orange

Where we are “on the map” (under the thumb tack)Like many other tycoons and coal barons in the late 19th century, the Van Wickles decided Rhode Island, a southern facing scoop of shore between Connecticut and Cape Cod, was where to “summer”. The insanely wealthy came en masse in high summer from the sweltering south to build outrageously palatial “cottages” in the cool sea breezes of the Ocean State. Newport was the famous choice of the rich and fabulous but Augustus Van Wickle chose little industrial Bristol because he was able to purchase 70 beautiful bayside acres with deep water moorage out front for his yachts. The Marjorie (built by Herreshoff)The quality and quantity of land was more important to him than the prestigious folderol of summering in Newport – the Van Wickles spent long summers and holidays at Blithewold actually enjoying their property rather than endlessly attending society parties.

Rhode Island is pretty special. It’s the smallest state in the union and has the longest name. Remember “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” the next time you play Trivial Pursuit. R.I. was founded on religious freedom, was the first state to declare independence, and the last (of the first 13) to ratify the constitution. The state motto is Hope, our bird is a chicken (Rhode Island Red), the state drink is coffee milk and our official shellfish is the quahog. (Does your state have a drink or a clam?) With a population of just over one million, we’re the size of a small city and everybody knows everybody or is somebody’s cousin. We have a skewed perception of distance and time – no place in the state is more than an hour and a half away from another but to go “off island” is an expedition (we pack a lunch). And we always give directions based on what used to be there (“turn right where the Almacs used to be…”) which tends to frustrate tourists and newcomers. Rhode Islanders garden in about 3 different zones – from 5 to 7a – in a state that could fit inside Yellowstone Park.

Bristol harbor 2-27-08Bristol (zone 6) is a town of 22,500 in the East Bay. We are nearly surrounded by salt water – Narragansett Bay on the one hand and Mt. Hope Bay on the other. Bristol is the home of the oldest (longest, loudest, bestest) 4th of July parade in the country and I think Bristol gardens are also particularly outstanding. Bristol has a sizeable Portuguese community, many of whom emigrated from volcano infested Azores and brought a beautiful and utilitarian garden culture with them. A few years ago the Bristol Garden Club helped sponsor a Portuguese Garden tour and I’ve never seen such lovely city gardens – every inch under cultivation with grape arbors, orchards, vegetables and ornamentals in cheek-by-jowl neighborhood backyards.

The climate in R.I. seems particularly conducive to gardening. The weather is constantly changable and we enjoy four lengthy seasons (though spring has a tendency to feel an awful lot like winter up until the moment it feels like summer) that aren’t any longer than they ought to be. Right when we’re truly ready for summer to end, fall falls. And though I was just talking to another professional gardener last night who said she didn’t want winter to be over quite yet (we’re still enjoying our rest), I’m sure in a few weeks it will seem like the most perfect thing to be back outside full-time cutting back and tidying up.

I really love Rhode Island. I moved away when I was 18 and for the next fourteen and a half years the biggest little called to me. “Come back!”, said little rhody. So I did. The Van Wickle McKees loved it too and eventually made Blithewold their year-round residence. Thank you to Jodi at Bloomingwriter for suggesting we all tell our garden’s geography story.

Garden Bloggers Geography Project

10 thoughts on “Where in the world is Blithewold? (a lovestory)

  1. Great job! I spent a week in Providence while my friend was studying at Brown. We saw some beautiful spots while I was there.

    Nancy, Thanks for visiting! Isn’t Providence a great city? I think it’s just the right size – you can walk everywhere. -kris

  2. What a nice little introduction to your fair state… I admit, I knew little to nothing about Rhode Island except for the longest name thing.

    You know, I think that in a lot of maritime areas, you get that same feeling, that spring feels like winter up until it feels like summer. I notice that at my house, whereas my workplace (30 min south of here by car) has a very distinct spring. On the flip side, fall almost always feels more like late summer until a snowfall brings that to a crashing halt. 🙂

    Kim, You’re absolutely right about fall – it’s the most gorgeous part of summer. Though we get those high clear crisp apple days starting in early September that are such a lovely shift from the mug we have to give them a different name! -kris

  3. What a lovely ode to Rhode Island. You’ve told me more here than I ever knew about it. Lucky you to have such a beautiful place to call home.

    Thanks, Pam. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Though I haven’t seen Paris yet… -kris

  4. Kris: You have said it all! Nice little history lesson for us natives! Thanks!

    Oh no – not “all”! I know you’ve already shared your view from space but how about another shout out about how great your neck of the woods is? There’s way more to R.I. than Narragansett Bay after all! -kris

  5. hi kris! i just found your blog a few days ago and have been avidly reading backtracking through many of your older entries. can you believe it? i live only about an hour away and visit providence frequently but have never been to blithewold! grand mansions aren’t really my thing but i do *love* gardens and never realized blithewold had such an incredible one! when is the best time to visit? is anything blooming right now? i hope you’re hosting more public workshops soon because i really want to learn more about gardening. my knowledge of plants is terrible!

    Adelyn, I’m glad you found Blithewold (I’m especially glad to have found you and delicious posts about food, etc — I’ll be reading through your Paris posts from home, since my interest isn’t work related and there’s greenhouse work to be done…) There’s no one best time to visit Blithewold. The thing to do, especially if you’re dreaming of your own garden is to come for a walk as often as you can especially during the growing season starting with the daffodil bonanza in April. (check out the membership discount here) And check out this page for our educational offerings. I’ll look forward to meeting you! -kris

  6. I used to go to Rhode Island as a kid to visit my aunt in Providence. I didn’t have an appreciation for it though until I returned as an adult. My in-laws had a summer place in a small town for a while. I was amazed at how the small towns were strung together by little country roads. And every town seemed to have it’s own little community of cottage gardeners. Charming!

    Robin at Bumblebee

    Robin, I didn’t have an appreciation for R.I. as a kid either! Though I loved living near the ocean and going swimming everyday over the summer (I wouldn’t have traded that for a pony). Where was your in-laws’ place? Tiverton, Little Compton and the villages of SE Mass are strung like pearls and amazingly quaint… -kris

  7. Kris- You note that Bwold is a USDA Zone 6 garden, but I would’ve guessed that you were Z7. I’m curious: When was the last time Blithewold went below OF?

    Ed, I think zone 6 is our safety zone and the world does seem to be changing. I’m always a little unstuck in time but I think the last really cold winter with prolonged single digit temps and dips below was the winter of ’03/04… Anyone else remember? -kris

  8. RI sounds really pretty! Maybe one day I’ll be able to visit!

    Chookie – I hope you do get to visit! – Maybe one day I’ll make it around the world to your neighborhood too. Never know! -kris

  9. I had no idea that parts of Rhode Island are in Zone 5! I just assumed the whole State had a nice maritime climate. I’m surprised you didn’t go for the easy joke about your State’s name – where’s the island?

    Mr. McG’s D, Up where Layanee is it gets a little harsher winter-weather-wise — but it’s probably more of on the cusp of 6 up there too. And as for the island in Rhode Island… It’s called Aquidneck island now and is just over the bridge from Bristol – that’s where Newport is. No joke! -kris

  10. I keep forgetting to ask you, Kris… what in the world is “coffee milk?” I’m imagining people using a little shot of coffee to flavor their glass of milk instead of the other, more usual (around here anyway) way around. Am I close?

    weeeellll… Close-ish. Coffee milk is made with coffee syrup – the same way one would make chocolate milk with Hershey’s, say. It’s basically an extremely sweet coffee icecream flavored bevvie. My vote for state drink would have gone to Dell’s lemonade which is a sweet/tart lemon ice slush with giant actual chunks of lemon. It’s sold out of carts and vans at the beaches and every street corner in the summer. There’s nothing like it to beat the heat. (mmmm… will it be summer soon?) -kris

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