The RI Nurseries Project

The Vaniceks own a farm on Aquidneck Island called Rhode Island Nurseries. They have been working this farm for four generations. They have grown ornamental trees and scrubs here since 1895.  I came here 1969, back from Vietnam with a used Hasselblad and very little knowledge of how to even load it. I was drawn to the fields immediately. I knew I had to photograph this place. I loved the perfectly straight rows of plants that ran off as far as the eye could see. The symmetry of this landscape was magical. The shiny white greenhouses glowing in the light. The thin branches of the saplings so delicate in the wind. The laborers silhouetted against the sky.  It was so compelling. The men who tended the plants were immigrants from Portugal and South America. Theirs was heavy, dirty work in cold, muddy fields, but they were a friendly bunch. They seemed to like it when I pointed the camera their way. It was hard to believe how fast they could pop a large scrub out of the ground, ball it in burlap and tie it up with string. Bruce Vanicek explained that this was the way it has always been done here, the old way, good for the plants.


Over the last forty years I have returned to the fields again and again. I’ve come in the snow when the greenhouses were buttoned up. I never tired of photographing those white plastic structures that seem to stretch to infinity, protecting the tender seedlings from the cold wind. I have made pictures on hot August days when men and mules cultivated the soil. They still use the mules to cultivate here. It is the old way, better for the plants. Hooves don’t compact the soil like a tractor does. I’ve been amazed at the process of propagating new plants from cuttings. This is done in January. The men graft thousands of little green branches to root stock. They nurse these tiny seedlings along, but it takes time, lots of time. Many varieties aren’t brought to market for eight years.