PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Drivers who frequently commute on I-195 may have noticed a sprinkle of sunshine scattered across the vacant land between South Main and South Water Streets the past couple of summers.
Landscape Architect Adam Anderson was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) nearly a decade ago, when the I-195 overpass was demolished. The land sat vacant for seven years, until Anderson sprouted an idea in 2016 to transform the empty lot into a beautiful sunflower garden.
Since then, Anderson has continued with his unique tradition, which he named “10,000 Suns.” He begins in May, shoveling piles of compost and sprinkling thousands of sunflower seeds across the vacant lawn.
“In some ways the sunflower field has been kind of a demonstration,” Anderson explained. “Of how the landscape can be transformative and how it’s an important aspect to the urban landscape of Providence.”
The summer-long spectacle has inspired thousands to check out the garden for themselves, rather than just driving by it on the highway.
But Anderson said he didn’t realize how much of an impact the sunflowers had on the community until a woman walked up to him last year as he was preparing the lot for the upcoming summer’s sunflowers.
“She said, ‘Are you doing the sunflowers again?'” Anderson recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah,’ and she said, ‘Can I talk to you?'”
Anderson said the woman told him the summer before, she was walking through the field with her mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
“Her mother doesn’t remember her, you know, doesn’t remember anything,” Anderson recalled. “And they’re walking in the field and her mother just stopped her and goes, ‘Sunflowers. You held sunflowers in your wedding.’ So she had this moment of clarity and this lady was bawling at this point, but you know, kind of a beautiful story.”
The moment inspired Anderson to continue with his annual project. But these moments may soon be a thing of the past, as the vacant land’s future remains uncertain. While there are no immediate plans for the parcel of land, the city expects to have it developed in the near future.
“I’m by no means anti-development,” Anderson said. “But it’s important for people to know, you do lose that sort of sense of skyline once those buildings are here.”
Until that day comes, Anderson hopes to continue to spread the cheer his sunflowers bring across downtown Providence. Even as this year’s garden wilts away, Anderson said he still has plenty of ideas to continue to beautify the city.