City Florist Shares His Land with Urban Farmers

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Richard Espeut is looking for gardeners, and he’s not terribly concerned about skill level.

For nearly four decades, the lifelong Rhode Islander has owned and operated Frey Florist & Greenhouse in the city’s Smith Hill district. The flower business keeps him and his full-time staff of four busy seven days a week, and when he’s not working, he’s growing vegetables and tending to his home garden.

The Cumberland High School graduate doesn’t have time to do much with the land behind his greenhouse. For close to 15 years, a Laotian family maintained a garden on his property, growing the usual suspects, plus oriental-style vegetables, bok choy and small squashes.

“The whole family would be out there before the growing season started and they’d have the garden ready in one day,” an impressed Espeut recalled. “They didn’t buy anything. They used scrap wood and branches to support plants. They recycled and reused everything.”

Last year, the backyard of the Frey Florist & Greenhouse featured three plots, including one tended to by Providence College graduate and former City Farm apprentice Sean O’Brien. The season’s bounty included cabbage, peppers and strawberry berries.

While O’Brien is returning for a second growing season, Espeut and his wife, Sharyn O’Leary, are looking for a few other urban farmers to make use of their property.

“There’s plenty of room and I would hate to see it go unused,” said Espeut, whose home property next door featured 24 tomato plants last season, the fruits of which were often given to neighbors and customers. “We share what we grow.”