After promising myself several times to stop, I made the side trip in August upon the urging of my garden-writing friend Jim Browne, who became marketing director for the facility. (Sadly, a month after our visit, the garden’s board of directors eliminated his position for economic reasons.)
I was driving south at the time, taking exit 260B for a break I truly enjoyed because it jigs and jags past some prime farmland on pristine country roads.
Because the garden had only been open to the public a little more than a year, I wasn’t expecting to see a great deal and got out of the car with just a few exposures left on the roll of film in my camera. After a quick look at the garden’s entrance, I hurried back for more film.
I’ve found over the years that when I’m in a truly great spot, I contentedly whistle the music of “Cappricio Italien” through my teeth, which I was doing when Browne rounded a corner on one of the broad pathways in a golf cart to give me a tour.
“The garden had been under construction for 41/2 years,” he said, “and the board of directors put off the opening for a year to allow the plantings more time to grow. It was a good decision. We had over 48,000 visitors the first five days after the opening, and we closed the year with just under 250,000 visitors.”
Entering the area known as “The Northwest Garden,” which displays native plants of the region, Browne observed: “The key players are Hines Nursery, Monrovia Nursery and Skatchit Gardens of Washington, as well as Woodburn Nursery, a huge supplier of azaleas. Here we have wonderful penstemon, phlox, hypericums and some great flowering dogwood varieties.”
Explaining that the garden is the brainchild of the Oregon Association of Nurserymen, Browne added that the garden is beautiful throughout the year with the Acer grissiums and their peeling bark, the weeping katsura trees, weeping white birches, “and even the lily-of-the-valley trees do well here.”
I mentioned seeing a monkey puzzle tree in a portion of the children’s garden area, and Browne acknowledged that it was part of the “plant menagerie” that includes a dove tree, zebra grass, tiger flowers, butterfly wings and a broad selection of plants with animal names.
Our cart trundled along past a “Best of the West” collection, which Monrovia Nursery installed a few years ago to showcase plants that fill home landscape needs.
“One thing we don’t have any of are daylilies,” Browne explained with a frown, “because of the rust problems in our climate.”
Our cart made a turn at the “Jurassic Garden,” which displays plants with their roots deep in history. Among them is a winter-hardy Japanese banana tree.
“What’s unique about it,” Browne said, “is that it produces both flowers and fruit, and you plant the new seeds to keep the plant growing.”
Then we passed a lush swath of green. “This has been judged by Briggs & Stratton as one of the 10 best lawns in America,” Browne noted proudly.
We next take a look at the drought-tolerant garden, a showcase for plants like cardoon, white poppies, ceanothus and yarrows.
“Most everything you see has been donated to the garden,” Browne said, noting that the garden got its start in the mid-1990s when the Oregon Association of Nurserymen sought a site for a botanical display garden and the city of Silverton purchased a 240-acre parcel of land just south of downtown.
Once the project started gathering steam, a number of other participants joined, including the University of Oregon School of Architecture ( interested primarily in the Gordon House, a Frank Lloyd Wright creation that has been moved to the site and is open to the public), Oregon State University, Chemeketa Community College, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute and numerous wholesale growers.
Currently, 60 acres are under cultivation, and if the garden gets much larger, it may mean that the tram tours will be even more popular than they are now. Historic trees, such as a 400-year-old white oak, are being preserved in a 25-acre oak grove.
The mission statement of the garden is, in part, to be “a botanically challenging world-class facility which will showcase the wealth and diversity of plant material in a visually compelling manner.”
Could the same sort of thing be done in California? It certainly should, but it’s easy to see bureaucratic and business roadblocks that would slow any progress to a crawl here. In the meantime, the Oregon Garden is definitely worth taking a break from busy Interstate 5 to bring home some imaginative landscaping ideas.
Dick Tracy is an award-winning garden writer and photographer, master gardener and former president of the Foothills Horticulture Society. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.
If you are going to Oregon Garden:
The Oregon Garden is 40 miles south of Portland and 15 miles northeast of Salem. It is a 15-minute drive from Interstate 5. For northbound travelers, take exit 260.
A complete description of the garden, its concert and educational programs can be found on the Web at http://www.oregongarden.org/. Call (503) 874-8252 for information.
Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5 for students (14 to 17), $3 for children (8 to 13) and free for age 7 and under. A family admission of $20 allows entry of two adults and up to four children under 18.
The facility has a gift store which offers baseball caps, mugs, holiday ornaments, T-shirts and garden-related items.
Space may be rented for weddings, reunions and other outdoor events.
Admission to the Gordon House is $2 per person for a self-guided tour of the first floor; guided tours of the first and second floors cost $5 per person. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Oct. 31. Call (503) 874-6006 for details.
The garden is open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m..
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