By Dr. Cynthia Paulis
If the words “polar vortex,” “Siberian blast,” “blizzard,” “flurries” and “icy wintry mix”—which is not a drink but another term for driving disasters—send you screaming under the covers, fear not, because spring does really exist. Don’t walk—run—to Planting Fields Arboretum, where the two greenhouses are exploding with spring flowers. Last month they held their annual Camellia House Weekend, where the snow-weary public can smile once again at the sight of beautiful flowers.
The greenhouse, which is more than 100 years old and one of the few remaining ones on Long Island, houses an exquisite collection of camellias brought over from China. Some of these trees are original and are also more than a century old. Henry Joyce, the executive director of Planting Fields Foundation, gave a short history lesson to the audience among the flowers as to their origin and how William Coe was a great connoisseur of flowers.
“Some people had great art collections, some people had a box at the opera, but Mr. Coe was not interested in that,” Joyce said. “He was interested in camellias, so he surrounded himself with 200 camellia plants.”
He then gave an explanation on the history of the annual celebration of this flower.
“This weekend started five years ago and to make the camellia weekend even more appealing, we have music in the Camellia House and lectures on the history of the Camellia House,” Joyce said.
“We decided to open the mansion in February as well. We have a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and the Queen of Hearts and a story teller. We call it a tea party because tea is made from the leaves of the camellia plant. Next year we are going to celebrate the Chinese New Year as part of the Camellia Weekend, because most of the camellias that are here came from China and grew wild on the mountains. This will become a bigger and more wonderful event next year.”
The camellia tress are in full bloom and are bursting with color in shades of pink, white, speckled and are a balm for the soul. People walked around with their heavy boots and coats, and as they entered the greenhouse, a smile came across their faces. As the guests admired the flowers, they were entertained by the barbershop quartet Quatrain, which was composed of four friends who have been singing together for 40 years.
Inside the house, Jonathan Kruk and Andrea Sadler were dressed in period costume: Kruk as the Mad Hatter story teller and Sadler as the Queen of Hearts.
“I tell tales to the children…fairy tales that kids can step into,” said Kruk, noting that he has been story telling for 20 years and was back for the fifth year at Coe Hall. “This is an idyllic place to tell stories because it is spacious and atmospheric and causes everyone to gather in and want to listen. It is also a unique festival because we are in the depth of a cold, chilly winter and here we have a greenhouse bursting with flowers. It is an oasis in the middle of Long Island and a way to escape the doldrums of winter by visiting this beautiful, historic place.”
About Coe Hall, Sadler said, “Oh, it is just so beautiful and it is so rare to see such lovely architecture…it’s just so exquisite. It is such a great place to come with all of the cold winters we are having.”
Another treat was the second greenhouse filled with tropical plants, plus a special performance by steel drummer Robert Mitrea of Jericho, who represents Steel Drum Mania. Originally from Romania, Mitrea was fascinated with the steel drum and has been playing it full-time for more than 20 years.
“This is a great location and a perfect match with my music. People sit down and enjoy my plants and listen to the music and have the whole experience of enjoying this venue. This music fits especially well here.”
While Mitrea played, spontaneous dancing broke out.
The Russo family of Massapequa admired the flowers with their two daughters Julia, 6 and Evelyn, 9.
Kathleen Russo said, “We like this exhibit, it’s a nice break from the cold. We were here a couple years ago, so when we saw this we decided to come again. It is so much nicer that going to the malls.”
Patty and Kevin Lohirus, with their grandchildren Jackson and Zoey, came from Locust Valley to admire the flowers.
“We love it here. When we are taking them we always tell them it’s like going down to Florida in a nice warm place,” said Patty.
Smelling the flowers, Zoey added her critique. “It’s very good,” she said. “My favorite part is looking at and smelling the flowers.”
As people left the greenhouse with a renewed spirit, they stepped outside into yet another snowstorm, which dumped six more inches on the ground.
To find spring go to www.plantingfields.org or call 516-922-8678. The greenhouses are open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.