Every year, right around this time, I always get one or two inquiries about the beautiful and showy water garden adjacent to the entrance to the Hamilton Harbour condominium complex off Boston Neck Road in North Kingstown. What are those flowers? How did they get there? What is that place that they are planted in? So let’s take a look at all this and see if we can satisfy everyone’s curiosity.
The plant itself is the Indian Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), an aquatic perennial native to tropical Asia and certain areas of Australia. This stunningly beautiful water plant is not only the national flower of both India and Vietnam, it also is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists around the world. These plants are extraordinary in that an individual plant, once established, can live for more than 1,000 years and their seeds retain their viability for just as long. Indeed, in 1994, a lotus seed known to be more than 1,300 years old, recovered from an ancient lakebed in northern China, was successfully germinated. Once established in the mud at the bottom of a pond or river bottom, the lotus root sends up thick stems that support large leaves, which either float on the water or extend well above the surface, and the showy flower can be as large as 8 inches in diameter. The lotus flower is revered as a symbol of divine beauty and its growth from the lowly mud of the pond bottom holds a benign spiritual promise, according to both of the aforementioned faiths.
So how did this tropical water plant, in all its promise and splendor, end up here in our fair town – and what exactly is the “here” in which it resides? Well, that location is ancient as well, although not as old as the storied locus plant. These fine examples of nature’s best work reside in the control lagoon of the circa-1850 waterpower trench that once powered the looms at the old Hamilton Web textile mill. Water flowing from the large manmade pond on the opposite side of Boston Neck Road was regulated here, and either directed down the trench to the mill or bypassed into the adjacent Annaquatucket River. The remains of some of those control gate structures still exist at the lotus pond. Lucky for all of us, the conditions here are uniquely suited to allow this tropical beauty to winter over in a latitude where it usually does not do as well. Sheltered from the winter by the thick, silty mud of this lagoon, these lotuses have been thriving and multiplying since they were first planted here in 1982.
So that brings us back to 1982 and our last query: How did these tropical beauties get here? Well, that answer lies down the other end of that waterpower trench. You see back in 1982, a pair of entrepreneurial brothers, Carl and Ralph Dworman, were taking a risk and working toward transforming the big Hamilton Web Mill complex into one of South County’s first true condominium projects. They knew they needed to do this project right if they wanted any chance at success and, with that thought in mind, they hired famed architect William D. Warner to do the design work.
Warner, the visionary responsible for Providence’s Waterplace Park and the giant river relocation project, came up with a wonderful overall plan that took full advantage of all of the site’s exceptional features, while still holding true to its wonderful history. Sadly, he is no longer with us to comment on the condo conversion, but his wife assured me that it was a project he was particularly proud of. As a part of the overall site landscape plan, the Dwormans hired Edward Williams and his firm, Grass Unlimited, to dress up the property. It was Ed Williams who planted the first of the lotuses some 33 years ago, and then landscaper Paul Cliff who carefully tended to them over those first critical years, assuring they would become firmly established in the mud of the waterpower trench control lagoon. Paul’s son, Kevin, who helped out in the summer, remembers distinctly the care his father took with those lotus plants, and both of them still speak with pride about the role that they played in assuring their survival into the 21st century.
And survive they do! With the life expectancy that they have, these lotus blossoms will be thrilling folks long after we are all long gone and forgotten. So they exist as an exquisite legacy to the work of the Dwormans, William Warner and the landscape professionals who nurtured them through the years. Who could ask for more.