QBARS - v15n3 National Test Garden Projects Completed In 1961

National Test Garden Projects Completed In 1961
Ruth M. Hansen


In 1954 when the City of Portland Park Bureau developed a parking area for the Test Garden it in turn necessitated the construction of two foot-bridges for the initial entrance into the Test Garden. The first bridge was over a small ravine through which ran a year-round stream, the other was across the Lake. It was the first bridge from which one could look down into the little ravine overgrown with wild blackberry that we began to visualize this area planted to the big-leaved rhododendron species. As the years went by its desirable qualities became more discernable as an ideal location for these particular rhododendrons, but always there was the problem of financing. So, more years passed and we who worked so closely with the development of the Test Garden continued to hope and dream of someday making this ravine the real Entrance Garden to the Test Garden and to develop it only to the planting of the big-leaved species. making it a unique garden for this Northwest area.

Last Fall our hopes were revived. A benefactor from Ambler, Pennsylvania, Mr. A. S. Martin, made it possible for us to carry out our years of planning. This kind and generous person had been looking for some project within the Test Garden that could be developed in memory to his late wife who had always been interested in plants and more recently in rhododendrons. Together they had come west, visited the Test Garden, in the past, and she had truly fell in love with it. So, after discussing the possible development of the ravine our patron made arrangements for the necessary financial help. Work of clearing immediately began. Through this aid we were able to hire from five to six high school boys every Saturday morning through the winter and spring months.

The ravine is about 100 feet long by 60 feet wide and about 20 feet deep. It is naturally wooded with native deciduous and evergreen trees, well spaced so that high shade is provided during the summer months. In the clearing process it was discovered that the little stream was fed from several springs rather than one. The stream was then deepened to give a faster flow to the water and three of the main springs were cleared so the water could he seen bubbling from the ground.

R. sutchuenense var. geraldii
Fig. 28 R. sutchuenense var. geraldii
Phetteplace photo

By the end of the working season, in early May, we had constructed a gravel path down the north side of the ravine and between the bridge and a large Maple tree we planted such species as R. calophytum , R. sutchuenense and a small grouping of our native R. macrophyllum . The large specimens of R. calophytum and R. sutchuenense (Fig. 28) had been moved from the Test Garden, the other two, six-foot R. calophytum had been donated by Mrs. A. C. U. Berry, and planted on a little promontory beside the stream. Above the path, the bank is to be planted eventually to our native azaleas, R. occidentale to give late spring bloom and good fall color. Other native plant material will intersperse the plantings around the top of the hill.

Continuing down the hill from the big maple tree ( Acer grande ) we had encountered a swampy section which had to be filled with at least eighteen inches of soil. This is the area set aside for members of the Falconeri series. It seems an ideal location for them, protected from the wind, just the right amount of shade and plenty of moisture during the summer months. To date there are six to seven foot specimens planted, the largest ones being a handsome plant of R. rex and one of R. auriculatum , the latter having been moved from the Test Garden. Smaller specimens of R. macabeanum and R. fictolacteum are planted at the head of the ravine. When this garden is fully developed we hope to establish a planting of the Candelabra primrose as a ground cover beneath these tree-like rhododendrons.

The path continues through this planting and around the end of the ravine connecting to the south path by a small wooden foot-bridge built as low to the water as possible. This bridge is so located that the springs may be seen that feed the stream.

As the south side of the ravine is considerably steeper, only a few rhododendrons are judiciously spaced along the banks. At present several old, gnarled specimens of R. fortunei have been planted and the intervening area allowed to grow up with the existing native cover of ferns and Disporum oreganum , 'Fairy Lantern'.

As one approaches the south end of the bridge one sees, imbedded in the side of the hill, a stone with a bronze plaque on which are the words, Jane R. Martin, Entrance Garden, 1961. This simple inscription is all that is needed for the memory of one who grew and loved all plants, for here one finds not only rhododendrons but, when the project is completed there will be interesting and beautiful plantings of our native shrubs and ground covers.

It will take another year before the plantings are completed, then we feel certain that this Entrance Garden will be of noteworthy quality and interest in the field of horticulture as well as a suitable entrance to our Test Garden. And if Jane R. Martin could see this development we feel that she would give her hearty approval.

Jane Martin entrance garden
Fig. 30.  A section of the Jane Martin entrance garden
during early spring planting.
Patrick photo


From this same bridge near the Springs, looking westward toward the Peninsula, visitors were entranced at Show time by the colorful bank of rhododendrons forming a massed planting along the curving line of the stream. This planting was composed of the nursery exhibits and for the first time this site was used. Necessity being the Mother of Invention it was due to the lack of a suitable location for the commercial displays in past years in the Test Garden itself that we looked elsewhere for a better location in which exhibits could be shown to better advantage.

As the Peninsula naturally curves in a long arc with the Lake on one side and the little stream from the ravine on the inner side, we conceived the idea of clearing a crescent shaped area of about 100 feet in length and on a sloping bank of about eight feet in height; thus creating a display area on a concave curve, easily viewed from the High Bridge and inviting people to walk down through the Peninsula Display garden. A graveled path was made along the edge of the stream. Here visitors can walk in front of the commercial exhibits and easily see the various plants and name tags. The whole effect was one of unusual freshness and beauty. Besides the visual advantage of having the nursery displays on the Peninsula it helped materially to divide the traffic flow of visitors and to relieve the congestion of visitors in the Test Garden during the peak of the Show. This one feature proved to great advantage this year and those who had worked on the project during the winter months felt their efforts were well spent.

Another project completed this year was the addition to the Coolhouse porch. For the past several years Garden Clubs within the Portland radius have been invited to display flower arrangements of rhododendrons and/ or azaleas in competition with each other during the Annual Show. These flower arrangements have proven an asset and their yearly entries are now an accepted feature of the Show. However, due to lack of space there has always been a certain amount of disturbance evident between the flower arrangers and the rhododendron exhibitors on the morning the Show is set up; so in order to eliminate all tumult and to provide more space for the showing of rhododendron trusses, a small room was added to the south wing of the porch. This room is to be used for the sole purpose of displaying flower arrangements during the Show. Needless to say those Garden Clubs participating this year were delighted with the new display room.
As for the Coolhouse itself we at last accomplished the re-arrangement of the planting beds only two weeks before the Show. The primary change being the construction of a central rectangular raised bed seven feet wide by twenty feet long surrounded by a low brick wall. This bed was then planted with the lower growing varieties of the tender rhododendrons such as R. carneum , iteophyllum , crassum , valentinianum , etc. The change has made a more attractive and inviting room for visitors to casually walk through and enjoy the beauty of these rhododendrons.

R. chartophyllum var. preacox
Fig. 29. R. chartophyllum var. praecox
R. Henny photo

During the past year the Test Garden crew worked against time, an urgency brought on by a desire to complete their work before the International Rhododendron Conference and the Annual Show of the Portland Chapter. Fortunately the month of January was unusually warm and below average rainfall which permitted outdoor work. At that time a new path was made and graveled at the extreme south end of the Test Garden bordering along the Lake. From this path one can now see the full beauty of the large specimens of R. lutescens and R. keiskei which had been hidden from view for almost ten years. As the season advances R. ambiguum , R. chartophyllum (Fig. 29), R. yunnanense and other members of the Triflorum series can now be fully seen and appreciated. No matter how much is accomplished there is always more to do: so we are indeed thankful and grateful to our City Park Department who provided a crew of men to do some last minute weeding and cleaning-up before the Conference. Without this extra help the Test Garden would not have looked so well kept. We are deeply appreciative of their cooperation.

The many visitors who attended the Test Garden during the International Conference were greatly impressed with the entire development and marveled at the great progress made within the short span of ten years. The three gardens which now comprise this project, being the Test Garden itself, the Peninsula Display garden and the newly created Entrance Garden, each offers an unusual setting with its own distinctive natural beauty.

After the main blooming period is over the task of dead heading is at hand. From the low growing rhododendrons to those requiring the use of tall step ladders for one to reach their tops, all are dead headed. The garden is gradually put to sleep until another spring and as one leaves the Test Garden retracing his steps back across the low bridge, up the incline across the Peninsula he pauses once more on the high bridge looking down into the cool woodsy ravine, our Entrance Garden, the Jane R. Martin Entrance Garden and breathes the freshness of the woodland once more before re-entering the world of reality.