The Washington County Fair offers visitors one last chance to visit the garden.

STAFF PHOTO: GEOFF PURSINGER - Jerry Anderson, of Forest Grove, tours the Tualatin Valley Garden Club demonstration garden at the Washington County Fair Complex. The garden will be demolished later this year after 30 years on the property. The crowds at this weekend's Washington County Fair are expected to be record-breaking, and that's great news for Jerry Anderson and David Russel.

They want to say goodbye.

The pair are longtime members of the Tualatin Valley Garden Club, which has cultivated and cared for a demonstration garden at the fairgrounds since 1988.

The garden offers classes, gardening tips and inspiration for the public, club members say, but the garden's 30th anniversary will be its last. Officials with the Washington County Fair Complex have told the club it will need to vacate the property by the end of the year.

"If people want to see the garden, the fair will be their last chance to do it," Anderson said.

In a newsletter to members, the club called the garden's removal "the end of an era."

STAFF PHOTO: GEOFF PURSINGER - Since 2009, the demonstration garden has donated nearly 10,000 pounds of food to the Washington County Food Bank."We're still in a bit of shock," Russell told Pamplin Media Group earlier this month.

Later this year, the county plans to break ground on a $46 million event center on the fairgrounds. That work means relocating the fair's maintenance yard.

According to county officials, the fair's lawnmowers, tractors and other maintenance equipment will need to move, and the best place to store them is the spot currently occupied by the demonstration garden.

The club learned it would need to vacate the property in June, said Russell, who has been a member of the garden club since 1969.

"We were informed that the fairgrounds is now an entertainment rental facility and that there is no place on it for a garden," Russell told Washington County commissioners at a meeting last month.

Whatever isn't removed from the site will be demolished.

"It all goes away," Russell said. "One way or another."

The garden is open every day of the Washington County Fair, which begins Thursday and runs through Sunday, July 29.

'Hands-on' learning

Tucked in a quiet corner of the fairgrounds behind the Hillsboro National Guard Armory, 848 N.E. 28th Ave., the garden goes unseen by most passersby, but it draws big crowds every summer during the Washington County Fair. More than 4,000 people walk through the garden each day, Russell said.

The demonstration garden is meant to offer locals some tips and tricks to create their own backyard gardens.

"We wanted people to see what options were available to them in their own gardens," Anderson said.

Anderson and Russell say the garden has helped teach generations of new gardeners about the hobby.

"Families don't have anyone to teach people how to do things anymore," said Anderson, who lives in Forest Grove. "This is show and tell, it is hands on. People can come here and realize, 'I can do that, too.'"

Each of the 16 garden beds maintained by the club offers a message of gardeners. Some showcase how to utilize small spaces, such as apartment patios, for successful gardens. Another garden bed grows a handful of large carnivorous plants.

"And this one is a wheelchair-accessible garden bed," Anderson said, stopping to admire potted plants several feet off the ground.

Produce raised at the garden is donated to the Washington County Food Bank, Anderson said. Since 2009, the group has donated nearly 10,000 pounds of food to people in need.

Master plan to be reviewed

For years, the garden club has shared maintenance of the demonstration garden with the Washington County Master Gardener Association. That group is already hard at work building a new garden at Portland Community College's Rock Creek campus, which organizers expect to open later this year.

When the garden at the fairgrounds was built in the 1980s, it was open to the public most days of the week, but Russell said the garden has slowly become closed off from the community. A fence and gate now keep the garden inaccessible except for a few hours on Tuesday mornings, which prompted the Master Gardeners to begin looking for space elsewhere.

"Unfortunately the demo garden is only open three hours a week," said Master Gardeners president Susan Albright. "That's a big drawback for something trying to be a learning lab for the public."

STAFF PHOTO: GEOFF PURSINGER - The demonstration garden at the Washington County Fair Complex has stood since 1988, but the space is needed for maintenance equipment when construction starts on a new events center later this year. With the new Rock Creek garden and a second Master Gardeners operation at Jenkins Estate in Aloha, there are few options for people on the western half of Washington County, Anderson said.

"We're much more agricultural than Beaverton," he said. "But western Washington County isn't getting much. If you live in Cornelius or Gaston, driving to Rock Creek is just too far."

While Russell said club members have resigned themselves to the fact that the garden will go, county officials say there is a chance the club will be allowed to build a new garden on the site.

Washington County spokeswoman Julie McCloud told Pamplin Media Group the county plans to revisit its master plans for the fairgrounds sometime this fall. That process — which is expected to take a year or more to complete — could mean the fairgrounds will find a space at the fairgrounds to build a new demonstration garden, she said.

"That needs to find a place," McCloud said. "We'll definitely take it into consideration. There are a lot of stakeholders and we want to update the master plan to take all of these needs into consideration."

In the meantime, Anderson said, Tualatin Valley Garden Club members are weighing options about what to do with the thousands of plants, pots and other gardening accoutrements currently on the site.

Some plants may be donated to other gardens in the area or sold to the public, Anderson said.

"Is there a church community garden that could use some raised beds?" he said. "Maybe some of these could go there."

By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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