JARS v50n2 - Destruction at Cecil & Molly Smith Garden, St. Paul, Oregon

Destruction at Cecil & Molly Smith Garden, St. Paul, Oregon
Herbert A. Spady
Salem, Oregon

Over the past several years there has been steady improvement in the condition of the Cecil and Molly Smith Garden. Two years of very cold temperatures had damaged or destroyed many plants. The damaged plants have been recovering. Many were showing enough vigor to set many flower buds for the coming spring display. The fall weather has been very mild. That caused considerable apprehension that we might have a cold spell that would destroy the buds without their having an adequate period of moderate cold dormancy. Those watching and working in the garden were directing their anxieties in the wrong direction. We had no idea of the blow (literally) that Mother Nature was preparing for us.

Douglas fir uprooted by driveway in 
Smith Garden
Douglas fir uprooted by driveway.
Photo by Herb Spady
Volunteers look over damage in 
Smith Garden
Volunteers look over damage.
Photo by Peter Kendall

Dec. 12, 1995, began as a pleasant warm day, but we had been warned by the weather forecasters that trouble was brewing. Even so, there was nothing that we could do. At about noon really vigorous winds began. The damage across the Willamette Valley varied considerably. On a drive from Salem along River Road one could occasionally see trees broken or blown over but really nothing too bad. As one approached the garden along Ray Bell Road the damage seemed to become progressively worse. At the garden it was almost unbelievable.

Considering the damage and the maximum wind velocities reported at other sites the gusts must have approached 70 or 80 mph in the garden. No doubt the recent removal of the windbreak across the road by clear cutting increased the damage.

The distribution of destruction was interesting and puzzling. The west side of the garden, the entry area from the parking lot, had no trees felled. There were a few limbs down, but most debris from those trees probably blew into the central part of the garden. There was no significant damage to the lower area. Wow, the center of the garden!

Paths of destruction

The large fir tree adjacent to the variegated kiwi, the red oak and the pink dogwood seemed to fall in a group, in the process they broke the tops out of several birch trees. The immediate victims were the two gorgeous large Loderis, 'Loderi King George' and 'Loderi Pink Diamond'. They were the center piece of the view from the deck. 'Loderi King George' was not too badly damaged. It lost a limb or two but should recover with time. 'Loderi Pink Diamond' lost some limbs and was tipped over. The destruction continued in a line through all the beds almost to the far edge of the garden. Only the new bed, which contains many plants donated by Warren Berg, was spared.

The large Douglas fir next to the driveway, the one that had the sign on it, crashed through the two adjacent beds. Fortunately the trajectory put much of that tree in the undeveloped part of the garden. It did take out an Rhododendron strigillosum plant and damaged several others. When it went over, its avulsing root system tore up about a third of the width of the driveway. Each large tree that has been uprooted has left a giant hole and a towering unsightly pancake root system to remove. Removal is very difficult without heavy equipment. It can not be used in the site. Removal of the roots and filling the holes will require much hand labor.

In addition to these major paths of damage from the trees going over, the garden is full of debris. Only the birds seem to enjoy the confusion and increased cover at ground level. Not of immediate concern, but significant, is the fact that there are 10 to 15 trees down on the periphery of the garden and in the undeveloped area to the east. It may be possible to salvage some of these trees for sale for timber. If so, that might compensate for some of the costs of rehabilitating the garden.

The small regular work party's attention has been immediately directed toward salvaging as many rhododendrons as possible. We were able to pull up 'Loderi Pink Diamond' and several other plants that were blown over. After that we have directed our efforts to clearing the paths. It is a tedious and slow process when one faces removing 100-year-old Douglas firs. For those who are regular workers the tasks seems insurmountable. It will not only take labor but it will also take considerable money to clean up this mess. We can not restore the previous appearance, but a beautiful garden can rise from the debris. That will happen only with plenty of help.

If you are interested in helping in the rehabilitation of this garden, consider making a contribution to the Cecil and Molly Smith Garden Fund of the Portland Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society.

Herb Spady a member of the Willamette Chapter, is president of the American Rhododendron Society.