A New Look at a Mature Garden
Betty Sheedy and Robert Furniss
Members of the Garden Committee, Portland, Oregon
The Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, now 23 years old, is fast becoming a mature garden. With maturity has come a new set of problems and opportunities for the members of the Portland Chapter who maintain the Garden jointly with the Portland Park Bureau in accordance with a city ordinance.
Twenty-three years ago the seven acres of the newly created Garden seemed a boundless expanse. The problem then was to find enough rhododendrons to make a respectable showing among the towering Douglas firs. Donations of rhododendrons of whatever kind were gladly accepted. When the umpteenth Cynthia turned up, no matter, there was a place for it. The founders, C. I. Sersanous, Ted and Ruth Hansen, John Bacher, and many other members of the Society, spent countless hours of planning and hard work in developing and maintaining the Garden. Financial contributions by public-spirited individuals also have been a great help.
Today, when a search is on for a planting site for a newly acquired plant, the seven acres seem much shrunken. But, when the maintenance jobs roll around, the garden expanse again seems larger than ever. The problems have changed and the opportunities have increased. This wonderful garden heritage from the pioneering members is held in trust by the Chapter to preserve, to change, and to plan for wisely, so that present and future generations may enjoy its full potential.
The Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden started out in 1950 as a test and display garden of the American Rhododendron Society. The purpose of serving as an official test garden was beset with difficulties from the first. Hybridizers were reluctant to provide plants for testing unless they had assurance of protection from vandalism. Adequate protection could not be provided because the Park is continuously open to the public. The Park Bureau provides one gardener who does the regular maintenance. People can come and go with very little supervision.
The Committee is working to acquire a representative collection of new American hybrids. This will afford an opportunity to observe their hardiness, their growth and blooming habits. To that extent the purpose of a test garden will be served.
As a display garden, it was planned to include a comprehensive collection of rhododendron species and hybrids and appropriate companion plants in a natural forest setting. Less hardy rhododendrons were to be grown in a cool house. Plants were assembled from many sources. In 1964, sponsorship of the Garden was transferred to the Portland Chapter from the Society.
Time has brought many changes. Hundreds of the rhododendrons have thrived. Many have grown into magnificent mature plants. From February until June there is an amazing variety and profusion of bloom. At the peak of the blooming season, often during the annual show on Mother's Day, the Garden is a blaze of color, one of Portland's finest sights. It is a joy both for the casual visitor and the rhododendron expert. The Garden has become famous far and wide. International visitors often are among the thousands who view the Garden each year.
From the beginning, the Garden Committee has been the moving force in the Garden. Aided by many energetic and knowledgeable members and by the Park Bureau, the Committee has made the Garden what it is today. Literally they have moved the earth. The chairman since 1964 has been Louis Grothaus. Now Louis and his fellow committee members are developing an overall long-range plan for the Garden and at the same time are tending its day-to-day needs.
To visualize the scope of this assignment, consider what happens in your own garden when a plant dies. The cultural requirement, the eventual size, the color, the blooming time, the landscape effect all must be considered. A random plant just will not fit the spot. The selection must be part of an overall plan. If you have experienced difficulty in your garden formulating such a plan, it is easy to imagine the tremendous variety of problems facing the Committee in preparing a long-range plan for this seven-acre public garden.
The Committee early recognized the need for a scale map to locate what is now in the Garden and to use it as a basis for future development. The City Park Bureau prepared a fine set of detailed maps last summer and since then the Committee has been busy inventorying plants and marking their location on the maps. The search for labels on the plants requires "on all fours" crawling accompanied by judicious pruning of lowest branches. Many plants have no labels and an attempt is made to identify them at blooming time. This is "Hawkshaw" work and Howard Slonecker is chief detective. Once the project is completed, all changes - additions, transplantings, and deaths - will be recorded so that it will be possible to keep track of every plant even if its label is lost.
The feasibility of printing the map and the list of rhododendrons as a garden guide is being explored. The committee has corresponded with directors of numerous gardens and arboreta and has obtained many useful suggestions. More would be welcome. The plan is to complete the guide, at least in preliminary form, by the spring of 1974.
The completed map and plant inventory will be an invaluable aid in evaluating the underlying policies for future development of the Garden. To attempt to determine the needs of people in the future the Committee is examining the purposes the Garden serves today. Five principal ones have been identified. Perhaps there are more or need to be more.
First of all, the Garden is a beautiful woodsy city park for year-around enjoyment. It is conceivable that many people who enjoy the park could not tell a rhododendron from a monkey puzzle tree. They bird-watch, bicycle (although forbidden), jog or simply commune with nature.
Secondly, the Garden is an invaluable means for displaying, living rhododendrons and simulating interest in them.
Thirdly, the Garden is a place to assemble and preserve a comprehensive collection of identified species, hybrids and companion plants.
Fourthly, the Garden is an appropriate setting for the Annual Rhododendron Shows and other activities of the Portland Chapter.
Lastly, the Garden is a demonstration workshop for the Chapter members, giving them the opportunity to observe and participate in the culture of rhododendrons in great number and variety.
The Garden Committee faces the continuing problem of making a public park compatible with its purpose of featuring rhododendrons. Other display gardens open to the public must have similar problems of deciding which activities should be encouraged or discouraged; whether accommodations such as parking, benches, rest rooms, drinking fountains, pathways and signs are adequate.
As plants grow and mature and additional areas are landscaped and developed, the problems of using the natural setting and topography to best advantage must be considered. Ways of making display beds visually pleasing and combining different varieties for landscape effect must be studied.
New methods to increase the public's interest in rhododendrons are always being examined. Among these could be printed guides, lectures and group tours.
The Portland Chapter is reaching the outer limits of the seven and a half acres which comprise the Garden.
New decisions have to be made about how comprehensive the rhododendron collection will be and what other plants included in the collection will enhance the rhododendrons and provide more year-around color and variety.
Next spring the Portland Chapter will host the Annual Meeting of the Society, May 9-12. As part of the preparations Chapter members are pushing ahead with garden projects. Our visitors will have the opportunity of viewing the Garden at its peak period during the Annual Show which will be held at the garden the same weekend as the Annual Meeting.