Oregon: The Oregon Garden

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879 W Main St , Silverton, OR 97381

'Conehead' bench at the Oregon Garden

History of The Oregon Garden

The creation of The Oregon Garden is one of the rare examples in the history of public policy where seemingly opposing forces - private individuals interested in public gardens and government agencies in charge of sewage treatment - came up with a solution that served the interests of both.

In the early 1990s the rural village of Silverton, Oregon, had big problem. It's sewage system was failing to meet regulations and the government was putting up a big stink by threatening to levy huge fines until the village fixed the problem.

Meanwhile, for years the Oregon Association of Nurseries had been looking at a number of sites for a public display of their commercial production in an idealized setting that would be a showcase for their customers (growers, nurserymen, landscape architects) but also the general public who might be inspired to improve their gardens. But gardens in the West require water and an inexpensive and unrestricted supply is optimal. Yet, here in Silverton was a potential source of water - treated, of course - that could make their project grow.

Committees met, plans were drawn, acreage was acquired, bonds issued, checks written and before long the dream was realized. Today Silverton has new wastewater treatment facilities that send up to a million gallons of treated effluent to an array of more than twenty terraced and connected ponds that were excavated from a gently sloping 250 acre hillside. That network eventually delivers a limitless supply of treated irrigation to an 80 acre group of variously themed plantings that today make up the Oregon Garden.

In addition to more than 400 conifers (some of which were mature specimens donated by the major growers in the area) the designers included an impressive list of companion plants such as Japanese Maples, European Beech, assorted Dogwoods, Magnolias, Rhododendrons, plus smaller woodies along with grasses and flowering bulbs.

When The Oregon Garden opened in 1999 it had 250,000 visitors that year but in subsequent years attendance fell off, as did the economy. Also adding to the situation was that, apart of the OG, Silverton, an hour south of Portland, was not a destination. Fortunately, in 2006 Moonstone Hotel Properties, a developer and operator of small boutique hotels with a garden theme for guests, came to the rescue. Moonstone purchased 11 acres abutting the OG to build its resort and took over the operations of the OG although the Oregon Garden Foundation retains ownership.

The ACS Reference Garden within the Oregon Garden, 2013

Less than two years after the opening of The Oregon Garden Resort, the ACS National Meeting was held there to almost universal acclaim. It was a perfect spot for this group: top-quality food and lodging located a short walk from one of the largest collections of dwarf and miniature conifers in the United States! The OG is truly one of the most stunning new gardens in the West.

The ACS Conifer Reference Garden at the OG

In the late 1990s volunteers, including many ACS members and nurseries in the region, started planting a 7/8th of an acre garden dedicated to dwarf and unusual conifer cultivars. In 2008, with the help of an ACS grant, an expansion plan was drawn up for the conifer garden that will triple its size. Many of the plants that have been going in are donations from Oregon and Washington nurseries that have been solicited, installed and cared for by ACS member volunteers.

Below, scenes from The Oregon Garden, photographed by ACS' Janice LeCocq and Joe Carli. More from Jan's visit in September of 2012 are on the blog she and ACS's Sara Malone produce, Form and Foliage.

Addendum 2020: TOG has had some recent challenges, which you can read about in this article from the Salem, OR, Statesman Journal