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Portland Parks owns Southeast's Rhododendron Garden, but volunteers make it thrive

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Volunteers at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden have a good time together on Wednesdays as they care for the Garden. Shown, from left, are volunteers Dottie Alberg, Ed Nunez, Paula Malone, Ingrid Klesh, and Joyce Fang. Whether it is sunny, overcast, or the rain is blowing sideways – every Wednesday, and also some Saturdays, between February and November, ten to twenty volunteers are weeding, deadheading, and otherwise caring for one of Southeast Portland's treasures – the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden.

The large botanical garden is located between the Eastmoreland Golf Course and Reed College, on S.E. 28th Avenue just north of Woodstock Boulevard.

The garden is a facility of the Portland Parks & Recreation Bureau, and operated by the "Friends of Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden" – a chapter of the American Rhododendron Society.

The volunteers of the Friends group are indispensable. Without them, the garden simply wouldn't be as presentable as it always is.

For over a decade Dottie Alberg has organized the volunteers who care for the nine acres containing over 2,000 species and hybrids of rhodies and azaleas that grow around and above the lake fed by Crystal Springs Creek.

"The garden couldn't exist without the volunteers," muses Alberg. "And ANY help is welcome, even just a few hours each month.

"Volunteers do the important work of the smaller tasks that Portland Parks & Recreation just doesn't have time for," continues Alberg, "like weeding and deadheading. PP&R does the big jobs like cutting up a large tree that has fallen, picking up trash, mowing the lawn and mulching all of the weeds that we pull."

Alberg started volunteering at the Garden eleven years ago when working with Oregon State University's Extension Service "Master Gardener" program. The program requires sixty-six hours of service, one half of it at a public venue.

"The Rhododendron Garden was closer to my home in Milwaukie than volunteering at the Pittock Mansion or the Rose Test Garden," says Alberg. It started for her as a matter of convenience; now she continues because getting together every Wednesday has created friendships. "We like the camaraderie. It is just nice to see each other." And of course, working together on a useful project creates shared satisfaction and memorable stories.

The Garden volunteers are one part of the "Friends of Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden" that was formed over fifty years ago as a subsidiary of the Portland Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society. The Friends are responsible for the new rock walls, water features, trails, and many other recent changes. They fund the work from gate fees and wedding events, and by holding an annual Mother's Day Sale at the garden.

Alberg emphasizes that new volunteers are always welcome. They may contribute as few or as many hours as they are able. There is no need to sign up, either; just go to the Garden on a Wednesday, a little before 9:00 a.m., and meet other volunteers at the large building in the middle of the Garden. All tools and gloves will be provided. Sturdy shoes are necessary, and flip-flops are discouraged. Bring a lunch for you to eat with the others at the end of the work time.

"If not able to stay for the full three-hour shift, volunteers are still welcome. Also, if you can only work once or twice a month, or if you are traveling and must take 'time off', that is fine," remarks Alberg. "That is the beauty of volunteering."

The Garden is one of Portland's storied highlights for residents and visitors, and is open to all between March 1st and September 30th each year, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., for a $5.00 admission fee. There is no charge on Mondays, or after hours.

Ramps and trails are ADA-accessible. If the parking lot at the Garden is full, you can park across S.E. 28th Street at Reed College, in the lot at the Performing Arts Building.

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