The Oregon Garden I (Silverton, OR)
Bill Long 8/1/07
A Warm Mid-Summer's Day
What are places you have never visited in your home town or the vicinity, places which you think you ought to see but visits to which you have put off for various reasons? Well, one of the things I have not done for about four years is to visit the Oregon Garden in Silverton (about a dozen miles East of Salem). When I was there in 2003, the garden was just taking shape and, since gardens take decades to mature, I wasn't very impressed. But when I went there today, I immediately knew that I was in one of the jewels of Oregon. Multiple gardens have been carefully sculpted; specialty gardens illustrate native plants/trees of Oregon or the twelve species of Oregon trees used for Christmas trees (Oregon is by far the leading producer of Christmas trees in the nation). Especially impressive is the "fir garden," highlighting dozens of fir plants and trees of the region. Many of the plants, bushes, grasses and trees are labeled, thus enabling the eager student to get lots of knowledge as well as an aesthetic appreciation of the flora.
Before telling you about the visit, I must register one caveat about the garden. I think that whoever is listening should push for two kinds of things for the garden: (1) an alphabetized species list of all plants, shrubs, trees to be put on the OG website; (2) a series of internet maps of the specific gardens with numbers pointing to various plants and trees, and these plants then being identified on that map. This would enable a person to study the garden from a distance; and it would also remove the need to label every plant/tree in the garden. I think we are still a decade away from such lists/maps, though it would have immense educational and fiscal benefits (I think, for example, if this were done, then the OG photographs of plants, etc. would eventually come up near the top of Google searches, thus letting the whole world know about the OG almost every time a plant/tree search was done). My approach to all of life is to see how it can be presented in an educational context, maximizing the learning for interested and motivated people. So, maybe this won't fall on deaf ears.
I Come to the Garden Alone..
Well, it was about 94 degrees today as I spent five hours walking through the garden and taking copious notes wherever I turned. There was also a lot of construction on the road leading to the garden parking lot. These two considerations made the place a sort of ghost town. The few folk I saw were either in the tram that takes people through the garden or were in the visitor center cafeteria eating lunch. Who was there? Well, it seemed that retired women topped all the categories. I saw no one "engaging" with the flora. In fact, I bet that it really isn't "cool" in gardens like this to get too "excited" about everything.
But I didn't care. I was eager to learn, to touch leaves, to see exactly how flowers formed, to run my hand along bark of trees, to make sure I understood as much as possible. I could joyfully leap from one plant to the next, singing or swearing to myself (as the case might be) with perfect assurance that no one would see or hear me. Well, one guy did talk to me. He was a volunteer, Nick, originally from HI, who ran into me on two occasions taking notes and, seemingly astonished by this unusual phenomenon, struck up a long talk with me. He was the one who found out for me that the OG does not currently have a master species list online, nor any plans to put one there.
What I saw When There was No Dew on the Roses
Some of you may have picked up the significance of the bolded subheadings. If not, I won't tell you... I began near the Schmidt Pavilion, where the Oregon horticulture "hall of fame" is located. I think they play a baseball game every year on the main lawn before inducting a botanist or two. What did I see? I saw lavender, with its distinctive purple heads shooting up two or three feet in the air, dwarfing the ground cover and plants, and giving a attractive backdrop to some gardens surrounding the great lawn. A gentle breeze wafted through the reed-like stalks, producing an ever-so-subtle buzz in the garden. But my eye was drawn to the plants overshadowed by the lavender-the popular Euonymus "moonshadow" or "wintercreeper." Quoting from one web site, I saw a plant whose "variegation is unusual and attractive--dark olive green blotched with a muted yellow."
I felt like I was making the acquaintance of friends whom I had previously met but whom I hadn't ever really "listened to." Now I felt I could stay and listen to the colors, the rustling, the combination of green and purple in proximity to each other. I withdrew down a path and headed over to some water gardens, stopping, however, to look at some ground cover and hedge surrounding a Yulan Magnolia. Anyone appreciating magnolia trees as I do knows that one of the beautiful features of these trees is the Spring/early Summer flowers. The Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) flowers are now in bloom at the Oregon State Capitol, and the smooth and tough white curled shells cover the among the finest flowers imaginable. So, I paused and studied the Yulan and then noticed the ground cover. There was some Yellow Simplicity, with its upside down yellow flowers, forming a sort of ground cover/hedge. I also think I saw some Sunrunner ground cover, though I have to go back and make sure of this.
In any case, I felt I was on my way. I had already "made the acquaintance" of about 3 or so plants/flowers, and I was delighted. In the 1980s I used to go to receptions with the goal of meeting at least 10 people each time (I had political aspirations at the time), but now I am interested in things tied to the ground. I was just getting started. The next essay tells you what else I saw...