JARS v54n4 - The Oregon Garden: A Joint Venture

The Oregon Garden: A Joint Venture
Frances Burns
Vida, Oregon

The Oregon Garden, a unique public/private venture, is drawing attention from all over the world. When the Oregon Association of Nurserymen (OAN) and the City of Silverton, Oregon, joined forces to create a world class botanical garden and solve Silverton's wastewater and wetland mitigation issues, an OAN dream was realized.

In the late 1940s the OAN first considered the idea of a botanical garden to showcase their industry.* By 1990, as Oregon's population and land prices soared, the OAN realized the imperative need to secure a site. Serendipitously and simultaneously, the City of Silverton was pressed to address two water-related issues: 1) treated wastewater discharged into local Silver Creek was too concentrated, and 2) new wetlands needed to be created to mitigate those destroyed by development. These coinciding pressures resulted in an offer by Silverton to buy a defunct horse ranch just south of the city and lease it to the OAN for 99 years. In return, the OAN's proposed garden project would be designed to utilize the city's wastewater effluent as well as provide acreage to create the required mitigated wetlands. The concept proved viable and support was broad-based and enthusiastic.

As a result, in 1996 the Oregon Nurserymen's Garden Foundation was formed and set about to guide a capital funding strategy campaign for the 240-acre garden project. A 20-year master plan was subsequently developed during a week-long collaborative professional design process. A day-long symposium was held also of representatives from industry, government, education, and tourism along with Foundation board members and local citizens. "The Oregon Garden" was chosen as the name for this magnificent work, and to quote Rick Gustafson, Foundation Executive Director, "The theme for using Oregon in the name was obvious - it's for the people who live here and who are so full of pride. This will be their showcase."

The Garden's mission statement proclaims, "The Oregon Garden will be a place to exercise the imagination. While experiencing the remarkable scents and textures of this garden, visitors will see adaptive gardening techniques, such as wheelchair-accessible vertical wall gardens. The priority is to serve people with specific enjoyment of all." As it unfolds, the Oregon Garden is meeting the following goals:

- To Be a Living Laboratory of Research and Study

- To Evolve into a Key Tourism Destination by 2010

- To Celebrate Oregon's Agricultural Tradition

- To Educate the Public About Responsible Gardening...and Environmental Stewardship

- To Enhance the Quality of Life for Visitors and Local Citizens Alike.

On June 28, 1997, as directors and guests sat on bales of hay in the horse pasture, a groundbreaking ceremony for the garden was held. Construction of Phase I, comprised of a $20 million budget and 60-acres, began construction in 1998 with grading, utility installation, conversion of a horse barn into an events pavilion, and wetlands development.

Also part of Phase I improvements is the innovative use of the City of Silverton's wastewater, an integral element of the Oregon Garden. Silverton's wastewater is first treated in a state-of-the-art treatment plant, meeting all requirements of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality; and during Oregon's drier months (May through October) is piped to a multi-pond water feature at the garden. Entering the system at the uppermost of 16 ponds, the wastewater cascades down a 37-foot grade through the first eleven ponds at a rate of flow that facilitates plants' uptake of nutrients from the water and hence provides a filtering effect upon the water. Along the way some of the water is diverted to two subterranean 3,500-gallon storage tanks and is later used for irrigation of the garden. The balance of the water continues to the lower wetlands, although most of it evaporates before reaching the lower four ponds. That which reaches the wetlands has been filtered by the complete system, "a synthesis of aesthetics and utility."

Actual planting of the garden began in 1999 and the central walkway system was completed. An inaugural season performance in the Teufel Amphitheater by the Oregon Symphony Orchestra kicked off the first of the Oregon Garden's annual Summer Concert Series with the beauty of Oregon sunsets shining through silhouettes of fine old trees in the Oak Grove.

In 2000 the Oregon Garden pulses with construction in earnest and is open to visitors seven days a week at no charge for the Preview 2000 Season. Jack Long, president of the Oregon Garden Foundation mused, "I knew that if you build it they will come, but we aren't even finished and they're coming...almost every person...had no idea of the scope and size of the Oregon Garden." He was right - by the thousands they are coming!

The Grand Opening will be celebrated in summer 2001, and admission will be charged for the first time. But as real gardeners know, a garden is never finished, changing with the seasons and over the years. The Oregon Garden has only just begun - a masterpiece that will grow for generations. Comprehensive on-site signing, plant labeling, and a newsletter to keep members informed are ongoing projects. Supplementary literature and lists of garden plants will be available in the gift shop at the Grand Opening.

Featured Areas of the Oregon Garden:

The Frank Schmidt Jr. Pavilion , a 20,000 square-foot full service event facility, was dedicated in April 2000. Named in honor of J. Frank Schmidt, Jr., the Pavilion is already recognized as one of the most popular halls in Marion County, and is booked months in advance for dinners, parties, weddings and other functions. Schmidt, 81, and son of a German immigrant family, got his start pulling weeds on his father's nursery in Portland. His early donation of $500,000 through the J. Frank Schmidt Family Charitable Foundation was a major step in creating the Oregon Garden six years ago. Housing the Oregon Nurserymen's Hall of Fame, the building sits atop a grassy hill overlooking the Willamette Valley. From this vantage point, the hills of Dundee may be seen to the north, and to the west Mary's Peak rises from the Oregon Coastal Range which separates the Willamette Valley from the Pacific Ocean.

The Rose Garden , sponsored by Jackson & Perkins, was dedicated June 25, 2000, as an official Portland Rose Festival event: Jackson & Perkins introduced its new 'Veteran's Honor' rose - now grown only in Arlington National Cemetery and here in the Oregon Garden. Perennials are incorporated among the 300 rose plants of ten different varieties, all provided by Jackson & Perkins. The color and scent on a warm summer day are mesmerizing.

The Axis , a linear organizing element of the Garden extending to the top of the hill, features at its beginning the Fountain. Cascading 30 feet into the air, the water descends in a petal design when seen from overhead. Colorful seasonal plants are enclosed by a trellis system, while petunias planted as standards resemble luscious lollipops. In Phase II development, additional display gardens will be created along the Axis, leading the way to a future conservatory atop the hill. Flanked by the Rose Garden and the Fountain, and adjacent to the Schmidt Pavilion, the Garden Green will accommodate large numbers of people and is a site for outdoor weddings and picnics. It is a transition space to other points of interest in the garden as well.