From gravel to garden
As spring breaks through on a recent April morning, two members of the Washington County Master Gardeners Association adjust a tree in the center of the newest garden at Portland Community College's Rock Creek campus.
Susan Albright and Sue Ryburn both joined the association more than five years ago. The two regularly teach workshops with the Master Gardeners.
Lately, Albright, Ryburn and other members of the Washington County Master Gardeners have been working rain or shine to bring the association's Education Garden to life in time for summer.
Four years ago, the association began looking for a new site for a demonstration garden to hold free classes to the public. Washington County Master Gardeners, a nonprofit group of 148 members, already take care of a Learning Garden at Jenkins Estate in Beaverton, but wanted to expand their outreach and classroom capabilities, Albright said.
The third of an acre spot, once a parking lot, was built on top of gravel, transforming constantly since the project broke ground last year. The first plants were planted in September 2018.
It has been a daily effort to bring it to life, Albright said. Every week on Wednesdays, the association would host work parties to keep up the work. After more than 1,400 volunteer hours in 2018, the project is near complete.
Other spots around Washington County were considered before landing on PCC Rock Creek, but nothing seemed to work, Albright said.
"Nothing originally screamed 'Let's put a garden here,'" she said.
But the Rock Creek campus is perfect, the two Master Gardeners said. By partnering with the community college, the gardeners will be able to do more community outreach. PCC Rock Creek is home to a landscape technology department, with a greenhouse and hoop house used as classrooms.
"This expands our reach dramatically for educational purposes," Albright said. "We are getting wiser about choosing topics that are hot button items. Not a lot of people have land, and lack of space and lack of time."
Washington County Master Gardners' Education Garden is now sandwiched between PCC's Learning Garden and greenhouses on the Rock Creek campus, making it a prime spot, both master gardeners agree.
"We thought, 'This is a challenge, and we are up for it," Ryburn said. "It has turned out to be a great project. In the PCC system, there is a heavy emphasis on sustainability and this campus is a certified tree and bee campus. Throughout this garden, you see boxes with wooden roofs. Those are for the mason bees."
The garden has come a long way from a when it was little more than a gravel lot. Today, the garden sports a fragrance garden, a section for bees and other pollinators to enjoy and plants not commonly seen in gardens that grow well in the Pacific Northwest.
"What is good about a garden like this there is intentional selection in foliage and texture," Albright said. "Plants are more than flowers. The bloom period for flowers is very small, and the bulk of what you look at year round is texture."
Beyond the more than 700 plants represented, an insect hotel stands in the center of the garden, open for business to any creepy crawlies wanting to take up residence.
Walking through the area is meant to spark curiosity and get visitors thinking, with information kiosks on the plants available. Albright said more and more people in the area are beginning to express their interest in gardening and working in their outdoor space.
Workshops and classes held by the group are becoming increasingly popular, as well. One class about drip irrigation attracted more than 60 people, a big surprise to the group, Albright said.
"It was so many people that we didn't have enough materials, so we asked people to re-sign-up for another session, and people did," she said.
The Washington County Master Gardeners already planning its first lectures and demonstrations for the site around about sustainable gardening.
"We do this for education," Ryburn said. "These are all things that are relatively easy to grow for the everyday gardener and will do well in our area."
The whole project didn't happen without partnerships and funding from donations by other master gardeners, and grants through Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District, among others.
"We ticked all the boxes for habitat and water efficiency," Ryburn said. "If you look around, many of these plants are young. This is going to grow and fill in significantly."
Many spots in the garden are left empty for now, Albright said. They'll be filled in by new volunteers soon.
"It is fun to have new people with spaces where they can bring in their ideas," Albright said. "It is not our garden, (but) it is an inclusive garden, or the whole chapter's."
As the garden preparations are coming to a close, the group is in anticipation for their biggest fundraiser, the GardenFest on Saturday, April 27 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., at PCC Rock Creek Campus, 17705 N.W. Springville Road. With more than 1,000 plants for sale, the gardeners will also invite ideas about the Education Garden and teach workshops all day.
Can't make it and still want to help celebrate the opening? The First Annual Open House at our WCMGA Education Garden will be held at PCC Rock Creek on Friday, May 17 from 1 to 2:30 p.m.
To learn more about volunteering with WCMA and its upcoming workshops, visit its website.
By Janae Easlon
Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune971-762-1166
Follow Janae at @Janae_Easlon
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