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Planting Fields Arboretum: The Flowers


This is not the blog I meant to write. I had headed out on Long Island to visit the Planting Fields Arboretum, with 350+ acres of trees, gardens, shrubs and greenhouses. Instead, essentially, a bouquet of flowers.


For which I make no apologies; if the weather hadn't turned mid-March nasty, keeping me largely in the greenhouses, there wouldn't have been room here  for all the flowers. And I promise to return in warmer weather to visit the rest of Planting Fields.


The 'main' greenhouse, built in 1917, primarily houses orchids and other tropical species, and an amazing variety of cacti, succulents and other denizens of the drier parts. There's a very easy feel to the greenhouse; plenty of benches, and up-close access to the flora. You could touch it all... except you don't.


We interrupt the quite apparent humidity for a dry spell here. For anyone who shares my delusion that cacti vary in shape but are all basically green and spiny, you won't get very far here!


Of course, there are quite a few that ARE green (or orange, or...) and spiny... or sort of...


The Arboretum, together with Coe Hall, the faux-English stately home its owners built while collecting masses of flora from around the world, has belonged to New York State since 1949 and is now a State Historic Park.


The Coe family really splashed out on the collections: "massive" lots of rhododendron from England, gigantic beech trees from Connecticut, an existing collection of rare camellias from Guernsey. You name it. Today, there are over a thousand varieties of azalea and rhododendron alone, and the camellias have their own greenhouse.


And some more camelias...


As you may imagine, building up collections like that took a lot of money, especially when you hire Olmsted Brothers as your landscape architects. But money wasn't hard to come by for the Coes. An immigrant from Scotland who became chairman of a large insurance company and a major railroad and mining investor, he married the daughter of one of the key associates of John D. Rockefeller at Standard Oil.


Mrs. Coe died in 1929, and Mr. Coe remarried a couple of years later, but none of that, nor Coe's expensive hobby of raising and training the thoroughbred horses that he built extensive stables for, seemed to stop the development of the plant collections. The stable's hay house which stored horse food is now the quite large cafe serving visitors.


After the Coe family gave the estate to the state in 1949, it was another twenty years before it opened in its present form; from 1955 to 1964 the State University of New York used it as a temporary campus for what became Stony Brook University, complete with dorms in the stables and geodesic domes for classes and labs.


The grounds and greenhouses at Planting Fields are open 9 to 5 every day except Christmas, but Coe Hall, which offers guided tours, is only open Wednesday through Sunday, and charges for admission.

Admission to the grounds is free, but there's an $8 parking charge from May 1 to Labor Day and on April weekends.



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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