Group has ambitious plan for Portland Botanical Gardens
It's a fun time for gardeners, as the American Public Gardens Association hopes to inspire the public to visit, value and volunteer during Go Public Garden Days! May 7-16.
So, the organizers behind the Portland Botanical Gardens figured it would be a perfect time to announce their grand plans for a multiconservatory and multigarden campus to be constructed in the metropolitan area at some time in the future at a cost of millions of dollars.
The logistics, partnerships, communications, website and more are being worked out, and a team has been finding and evaluating land for an acquisition. It could be in Portland, could be in the suburbs. Either way, it's a go for founders Sean Hogan, Paige Witte and Dan Pogust and their roster of some 40 volunteers. Kate Bodin serves as executive director.
"We wanted everything in a row before making a large general announcement," said Hogan, a Portland native and longtime botanist who serves as the nonprofit company's president. "We want people to see the 'there there.' But, we don't want to surprise people. We're close to it."
It's an ambitious project, but it has been in the works for a couple years. Hogan said, optimistically, land could be identified by summer; he estimates land and facility/garden construction costs could be $200 million, but "it's floating" and depends on the cost of land.
The founders know that many cities — and universities — around the country have featured botanical gardens. Portland and Oregon already have botanical gardens, including Leach Botanical Garden, Lan Su Chinese Garden, Portland Japanese Garden, Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, International Rose Test Garden, Hoyt Arboretum and Oregon Garden. Hogan envisions partnerships being developed with them, and Portland Botanical Garden serving as an all-encompassing campus with conservatory, gardens, flowers and plants from around the world, education and vocation programs and much more. It'll be a hub.
"That is part of our plan," said Pogust, who's Portland Botanical Gardens head of marketing. "We don't want to compete. We want to be an interconnected source. Each botanical garden around Portland offers totally different things."
Added Hogan: "We will very much tie it into Portlanders and existing institutions we have."
The idea for Portland Botanical Gardens started when Pogust had to find another place to live and a home for his extensive collection of passion flowers, which had been in a greenhouse in his backyard. "I was moving these plants every six months and was getting tired of it," he said.
He thought: "Hey, what if I could do a conservatory? Buy a house and charge admission?" A nonprofit consultant told him to go all in on a botanical garden. At the same time, Pogust was at Potted Elephant in Hillsboro, where he had put his flowers, and overheard somebody talking about lapageria (flowering plants). It was Witte.
"He came over and asked, how do you know lapageria? We met there," said Witte, who's a PBG educator. "I knew Sean; if you're in the plant world, you know who Sean Hogan is."
So, Pogust wrote up a 40-page proposal for a botanical garden, pitched it to Witte and Hogan, and the idea took off. A nonprofit company was established last year, and fundraising and grant proposals have been in the works.
Hogan had curated the University of California botanical garden and the Lan Su Chinese Garden when it opened, and was a good friend of Lilla Leach, who owned and then donated Leach Botanical Garden to the city of Portland. He now owns Cistus Design Nursery on Northwest Gillihan Road (Sauvie Island).
Hogan sees Portland Botanical Garden as something special and extensive that would allow visitors to "walk the world" and "traverse Oregon" with its collection of plants and flowers, from what you might find in a Pacific Northwest lupine meadow or a South African veld. Hogan said PBG will be replete with diverse flora from the Siskiyou Mountains, Wallowas, Columbia River Gorge and coastal range.
And, a big part would be about research and education. PBG would partner with international botanical organizations to conserve species.
"I honestly think Portland is ready for it," Hogan said. "The idea is that someone can walk through rarified, weird and inspiring plants from around the world.
"We want to make it fun … and as accessible as possible to the greatest number of people possible, especially via transit."
Said Pogust: "It'll be a complete garden with conservatory, educational/vocational centers, welcome center, gift shop, the whole shebang."
As far as the education aspect, Witte said they want to reach young people and "show them the wonder of plants, about career paths and celebrating our field as well. … It'll look like hands-on science and not focused on food production. … We're reaching out to K-12 schools, public and private, to understand what their needs are."
Witte, who managed the greenhouse at Oregon Episcopal School, looks forward to doors and walking paths opening at some point at Portland Botanical Gardens.
"As founders, we've been at this for a while, but we've been slow and steady and quiet in realms we need to be," she said. "It's a big bird to get off the ground."
Bodin encourages people to visit any gardens around the state during Go Public Garden Days!, as Portland Botanical Gardens will be very collaborative in how it operates.
"Our goal is to complement and highlight the beauty of the thriving gardens in our area," she said. "We want to encourage people to visit all gardens of Oregon."
For more on Portland Botanical Gardens, see www.portlandbg.org.
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