URI celebrates opening of new pharmacy courtyard, Youngken Medicinal Plant Garden

Key part of new College of Pharmacy Building

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 26, 2013 – The University of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts celebrated the grand opening today of the new Pharmacy Courtyard and Heber W. Youngken Jr. Medicinal Plant Garden, a beautiful public and scientific space built just steps from the college’s new $75 million home.
URI and arts council officials joined Friends of the Heber W. Youngken Jr. Medicinal Plant Garden, the Youngken Foundation, the URI Foundation, pharmacy students and youngsters from the URI Child Development Center during a ceremonial planting to open the courtyard and garden.
Developed by the College’s first dean, Heber W. Youngken Jr., the medicinal plant garden has been a fixture for more than 50 years on the Kingston Campus in one form or another. A stunning example of public space that draws on nature, science, and art, the new site is a gathering place among the health and life sciences facilities in the north district of the Kingston Campus. It is located to the south side of the college and between Woodward and Tyler halls and is designed to be a place of research and respite from the demands of 21st century life.
The garden, which was located outside the college’s former home, Fogarty Hall, for most of its life, was virtually hidden from the larger campus 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.
The new courtyard and garden has 200 medicinal plants, 500 ornamental plants, 9 birch trees, grassy 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 University is justifiably proud of its interdisciplinary approach to education, and the courtyard and garden are excellent examples of our commitment to that approach,” said Donald H. DeHayes, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “This courtyard and garden illustrate the multiplicity of connections between nature and healing, research and teaching, and art and science. This is truly a place where one can learn about natural pharmaceuticals, nutrition, and aesthetics.”
Robert A. Weygand, vice president for Administration and Finance, said the site is one element of a cohesive health and life sciences district. “As much as we have focused on making our new pharmacy and biotechnology centers beautiful teaching and research environments, we have also focused on creating a distinct and pleasing exterior neighborhood that includes welcoming open spaces that can be enjoyed by our entire community.”
The entire 40,000 square-foot site was designed as a wellness garden with courtyard, terrace seating, and medicinal plant components. Stone and concrete walkways allow access to the interrelated 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 supported a large portion of the project. Volunteers from the Friends of the Heber W. 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 much more a part of the interdisciplinary approach to learning here at URI.”
Dean Youngken’s son, Richard Youngken describes the garden as: “a vision that my father endowed so that it would have life into the future. He and his father before him (Heber W. Youngken, Sr.) devoted much of their scientific and academic careers to the study of medicinal plants and natural healing; the garden is an important means of educating scientists and the public about the history and value of botanical medicines in a serene and restful setting. The design and installation of this new version of the Youngken garden carries the vision forward, front and center, in the life of the new College of Pharmacy building.”
Elizabeth Keithline, director of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts One 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.”
Michael J. Smith, president of the URI Foundation, said the project illustrates the importance of long-term donor commitments to the strength and progress of the University.
“We are deeply grateful to the Youngken family for its long and continuing support of this beautiful garden, as well as the faculty and students of this great College,” Smith said. “Dean Youngken established a strong foundation for the College and then ensured its continuing vitality and position in the world with his generosity. It’s gratifying to see the beautiful results of the collaboration among the University, the state arts council and the Youngken Foundation.”
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.
Facts about the Pharmacy Courtyard and Heber W. Youngken Jr. Medicinal Plant Garden
At the College of Pharmacy Courtyard and the Heber W. Youngken Jr. Medicinal Plant Garden visitors will find plants that help prevent or cure everything from cold sores to cancer.
• 200 medicinal plants
• A monument carved with Youngken’s name and information, located initially at the College of Pharmacy’s former Fogarty Hall home, now sits as the south entrance to the garden.
• 500 ornamental plants, planted by the Friends of Heber W. Youngken Jr. Garden
• 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.
• A project of the University of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, and the Heber W. Youngken Jr. Foundation. The courtyard and garden are URI’s response to the state requirement that one percent of buildings funded by taxpayers be devoted to art.
• The artists who developed the courtyard and medicinal garden are Elizabeth Billings and Andrea Wasserman of Vermont, who worked with the landscape architecture firm of H. Keith Wagner Partnership of Burlington, Vt.
The Youngken Medicinal Plant Garden
• The medicinal plants are organized along the eastern garden edge to maximize western solar orientation against the low retaining wall, as well as creating a warm microclimate beneficial to the more temperate plants.
• The long tapering series of beds takes it shape from the “conical measures” or laboratory glassware used for accurate measurement of liquids.
• The garden paths and stone banding find their departure point in the graduated markings of these precision instruments as well as the strong verticals of the new College of Pharmacy building.
• With the heat retaining qualities of stone, the dark bands make themselves visible in winter and summer, against white snow or green grass.
• The “crop rows” speak to the strong history of URI’s beginning as the Rhode Island Agricultural School and the growing interest in the investigation and industry of medicinal plant farms.
• The original garden was established in 1958 and dedicated in 1994 to Youngken, the late founding dean of the college and trailblazer of pharmacognosy (the study of medicinal plants).
• In 1966, Youngken joined with John Knauss, the first dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography, to make a “drugs from the sea program” a key part of the new Sea Grant program.
• He also founded URI’s Heber W. Youngken Jr. Pharmacy Clinic that provides continuing pharmacy education.
• Youngken authored more than 180 articles dealing with the pharmacology and chemistry of plants used as pharmaceuticals that appeared in such journals as The Herbalist and The Journal of Natural Products. He was also an author of Pharmaognosy, published by J.B. Lippincott in 1951 and reprinted in 1965, and Organic Chemistry in Pharmacy, published by J.B. Lippincott in 1949.
• The Youngken family has established several funds to benefit pharmacy faculty and students, as well as the garden.
Other key elements of the courtyard and garden:
Arc Wall
• The long arc wall begins as a seat wall at the southern end of the garden and grows in height as the adjacent grade descends. This concrete feature accentuates the drop in courtyard elevation and becomes the base for the “Materia Medica frieze” a sculpture of translucent panels. The frieze becomes a scrim lending privacy to the garden from Woodward Hall and the main pedestrian walkway. The gentle curve of the wall embraces the garden while taking the emphasis from its narrow width.
“Materia Medica” Frieze
• Emerging from the wall, the Materia Medica Frieze makes visible a poetic investigation of plant matter. The activity of growth, movement, and transformation of plants and cells is integral to the frieze as the imagery ebbs and flows.
• At the south end of the garden, the wall begins as a gentle curvilinear line at seating height, a contemporary reference to Rhode Island’s historical stonewalls.
• A progression of images and patterns progress through the frieze, which is made from 50 half-inch-thick, 2-foot by 4-foot etched panels bolted to square aluminum posts. The panels themselves are etched on both sides creating depth and shadow to the drawing.
Birch Grove and Seating
• A sidewalk connects with coastal references while providing east-west pedestrian circulation within the garden. On the north side of this sidewalk, native river birch emerge from stone dust forming a shady area to congregate. Wood benches shaped like birch leaves, are scattered through the grove.
• At the very north end of the garden, steps and seating steps provide a transition from garden grade to lawn.
Central Green
• The green Is a place where students, faculty and staff congregate adjacent to the medicinal plant beds and with the privacy created by the wall. This open space acts as a mini-campus green allowing flex- space for classes, study, sitting and sunning. Elm trees, aesthetically placed, provide scale and shade. Integral to the overall design of the Garden, the pattern of stone banding and in-ground lighting emphasize the gently sloping grade.
• The linear bands of flush, in-ground lights accentuate the stone banding, the graduated markings of the garden, and provide a dramatic effect when viewed from the new building’s balconies and from Woodward and Tyler halls. The Materia Medica Frieze is lit from below and glows at night accentuating the etchings as well as guiding visitors to the building entrance. All of the site lighting proposed utilizes solid state LED technology providing extremely efficient fixtures with very long life expectancies and low maintenance demands.