This is the second of a series of informal reports by myself on our Conference and Constitutional General Meeting in Portland, Oregon, USA in September 2010. For the first report, please click here. If you wish to go to the third and final report, please click here. There will be a full write-up in the next issue of our journal, Clematis International 2011, which I estimate will be published around May/June 2011.
Constitutional General Meeting
Thursday was the business day of the conference with the Constitutional General Meeting taking up the morning and held at University Place. However even Society Business has it's moments, as when the membership voted to confirm a new Honorary Fellow of the Society and to make two Golden Clematis Awards.
Silver Star Vinery
After lunch it was back on the buses, heading off to Silver Star Vinery, a clematis nursery located in Yacolt, WA. It's not that far from Portland, about 40 miles, but it took us about an hour and a half due to the country roads we had to negotiate in our buses. As you can see to your left, we took up most of the road. Silver Star Vinery is located in what many would feel is an idyllic position in the middle of forest. A most unlikely place to establish a clematis nursery, or that's what it seemed to me as we walked up the steep slope to the cluster of buildings.
While Debbie Fischer and Dennis Hutchinson welcomed us to Silver Star Vinery, a glance to either side re-assured us that we were in the right place, and also gave a hint of fine things to come. In every direction one could spot clematis - cladding posts, climbing up into trees, trained over trellis.
There was also a very comforting waft of wood smoke coming from a firepit, and with the weather cold and overcast, a number of people were tempted to move a little closer in that direction.
But we were made of sterner stuff, and so we were soon following Debbie through the woods, past the half-built log cottage, to her main clematis display area.
I would be surprised if there was anyone present expecting the sight that was in front of us as we came through the woods into a large clearing - row upon row of supporting wooden structures clad in clematis, sometimes to the point where the supports were totally hidden.
Like children in a candy store, we hurried around from one row to another, inspecting flowers, peering at labels, standing back to admire a particularly fine example. And there was much clicking of cameras as flowers were photographed from every angle. There were so many good and interesting clematis in flower that it would be wrong to single out any one cultivar - but I must have a picture of one, so I've chosen C. 'Stolwijk Gold' - for the stems and foliage!
In spite of a little rain in the air, we spent a large part of the afternoon inspecting the impressive collection that Debbie has planted in her woodland clearing. And for those that can, it's a collection that is worth revisiting at different times of the year as well.
It was well worthwhile wandering around other parts of the Vinery as there were many clematis planted all over the place. As well as a small but intimate garden, there were clematis in trees, over shrubs and, as you can see in the picture on the right, including bird box stands.
When we'd arrived I'd spotted preparations already happening for our dinner tonight. On the menu was salmon, to be cooked on wooden planks, and looking at the salmon as it was being expertly filleted, it was about as fresh as it comes. The planks are soaked for a number of hours before the salmon fillets are put on them and the whole lot placed on the barbecue. The wood adds flavour to the fish and keeps it moist, and the soaking stops the wood from charring.
Our chefs were obviously enjoying their job, in spite of the number of people they had to feed.
Well, the results were well worth the effort, as the fish was both moist and very flavorsome. I haven't come across this method of cooking salmon before, but having experienced the results, it's a method I want to try myself.
Time came eventually for us to leave and return to Portland after a wonderful visit. Our hosts couldn't have been more welcoming and hospitable, so many thanks to them and all their helpers.
Options Day - Historic Gardens of the Kerr Family
Elk Rock - the Bishop's Close
Friday was "Options Day", with attendees having pre-selected one of three different destinations. Here you will only read about the trip which was my choice, to the historic gardens of the Kerr family. You will have to wait for Clematis International 2011 to read about the others.
The first of the Kerr gardens was the Bishop's Close, also known as Elk Rock, created by Peter Kerr and his wife. The garden was formed on a 13 acre plot of land on the cliffs overlooking the Willamette River, known as Elk Rock, in the first quarter of the 20th century. The extensive cultivated grounds, approximately 6 acres, contain many shrubs and trees, wide sweeping lawns and interesting views down gullies and across the Willamette River. When we visited there were not many plants in flowers, however the gardens are well known for the collections of different magnolias and of native and exotic plants.
In the centre of the gardens is the house, designed to resemble a Scottish manor. My impression of it was strange, grey, stark and quite plain, so perhaps the design aim had been well realized!
I suspect that on a more favourable day, and possibly a different time of the year, things could be very different.
The Bates Garden (garden of Anne MacDonald)
From Elk Rock it was a short walk up the road to the second Kerr garden, originally owned by Lady Ann MacDonald, one of the daughters, but now owned and lovingly cared for by Susan and Richard Bates.
The first impression was of a very elegant and beautifully proportioned house with a small but tidy front garden, with lots of pots and shrubs to break up and soften the brick paved area. We were warmly welcomed by Susan and John Bates and shown around the side of the house to the garden.
This is obviously a garden owned and lovingly tended by a gardener, with a sensitivity to its historic past. As we rounded the corner of the house, a fine vista greeted us. A wide open lawn ran down from the flowerbeds at the rear of the house, with a large tree at the centre of a bed at one end. Beyond the lawn there appeared to be various trees and shrubs, and we were led towards them for a little guided tour.
Susan Bates has spent a lot of time and effort retaining the best of the original planting, replacing where and when necessary both with plants from Anne MacDonald's original list but also with complementing plants of her own liking.
Susan guided us from one area to another, one flowerbed to another, pointing out some of her favourite plants, or perhaps some of the original plants that she inherited with the garden. She was particularly interested to use the experience we provided to help confirm the identity of a number of her clematis, or suggest their true names.
The latest development is this alpine slope, newly created this year. Tucked away to one side of the property, it's a lovely feature and a good example of the attention to detail that seems to pervade the entire garden. In a year or two, once fully established, it's going to look great.
A good example, I believe, of balancing the old and the new can be seen in this weathervane featuring a sculpture of a humming bird, a species seen frequently in these parts. Originally this was on the roof of a gazebo in the front corner of the plot. The gazebo was difficult to maintain and not in the best position, John suggested removing the roof but leaving the brick as natural shelving, but that left the question of what to do with the humming bird. So it was turned into a weathervane on a post in the rear lawn, gracing the adjoining island flowerbed and visible from the breakfast room in the house.
It is a delightful garden, beautifully planted and maintained, with lots to interest any gardener. We thank Susan and John Bates for sharing it with us.
Berry Botanic Garden
We had been scheduled to visit the garden of the second of the Kerr daughters, Jane Kerr Platt, but a problem had arisen with our visit so our afternoon had been revised and we visited the Berry Botanic Garden instead. An unfortunate time for the garden and probably our one and only chance to visit as the garden had been sold and was closing down. So whilst we were pleased to be one of the last groups to look around, if not the last group, it was obviously a difficult time for the staff and an air of sadness accompanied our visit.
The Berry Botanic Garden was founded by Rae Berry. She and her husband moved to what became the garden in 1938, when her existing garden had become too small for her plants. Her main collections comprised rhododendrons, primulas and alpines, though she particularly liked unusual and difficult to grow plants. Her skill to cultivate plants that defeated others was legendary. You can read more about Rae Berry at The Berry Botanic Garden.
We sat behind the house and had our lunch box before starting a guided tour around the garden. First stop was outside the front of the house where we all admired the beautiful carved tree on the wooden front door.
After a short history of the gardens we followed the path around the gardens, though the wet area and on to the alpine garden. The threat of closure had cast a shadow over the garden for some time and to some extent over our visit. It seems so sad that so many plants, that had grown here for many years, might not survive much longer. Whilst the plans for the area were unclear, only a small area was guaranteed to remain a plant sanctuary, though cuttings had been taken from the rarer specimens that would hopefully find a good home.
The gardens had few clematis but we did find a C. ochroleuca but not in flower. At various points along our route there were also articles for sale, such as this trough of alpines. A bit big for a suitcase, unfortunately.
I leave you with the picture of a bronze-coloured magnolia, a magnificent specimen and, I believe, one from which cuttings have been taken so whatever happens to the gardens it should not be lost. We left with mixed emotions, pleased to have visited, sad that we were probably the last group ever to do so. But we didn't leave empty-handed as what had been the visitor centre there was a sale of everything from staplers to posters. Quite a few of us bought souvenirs but the object that caught my eye was a 1992 poster advertising "The Berry Botanic Garden's Annual Fall Plant Sale October 3rd 1992". The special thing about this poster was that the picture on it was of Clematis texensis. There were a few signed and numbered copies and the name of the artist appears to something like "S.M. Wilcox" or possible "Wilson". I'd be very interested to know more about it if anyone can help.
Luscher Farm, the home of the Rogerson Clematis Collection
One of the key visits of this trip was always going to be to Luscher Farm where the Rogerson Clematis Collection is now held. Curator of the Clematis Collection, Linda Beutler, and Director of Luscher Farm, Karin Davis, provided tours of the various parts of the farm.
Farming was first carried at Luscher around 1900 and the Queen Anne style house on your left as you enter dates from this time, as does the huge barn. In its working life it was mainly used for dairy farming but this came to an end in 1969, after which the land was grazed.
In 1991 the land was purchased by City of Lake Oswago who has subsequently developed it for a variety of community uses including recreational areas and community gardens. It also now is home to the Rogerson Clematis Collection, created over many years by Brewster Rogerson.
We broke into two groups and I joined the Community Gardens Tour. The idea behind the Community Gardens is to give members of the public the opportunity to grow largely what they want by providing a plot of land and help, encouragement and advice. All the plots are organic. The system is very popular and the 185 plots are allocated each year by lottery, such is the demand. Plots can, I believe, be owned individually or by groups, for example schools.
From the look of the plots, it had been a very productive year and it was not over yet. There was still a lot of vegetables and fruit to ripen and be picked.
Scarecrows seemed to be a very popular means of decorating plots and expressing personalities. They were dotted all over the farm but particularly prevalent here amongst the community plots.
As we wandered, it was very clear how successful this community scheme has been. People obviously covet a plot and, once they are allocated one, do everything in their power to keep it exceptionally neat, tidy and weed-free.
Next up was the tour of the Rogerson Clematis Collection, guided by curator, Linda Beutler. As she pointed out the various different areas she explained some of the history of the collection and why it since 2005, it has been located at Luscher Farm. She showed us around established beds and "work in progress". The collection is growing continuously, so the planting is always changing.
The wooden frames you see to your left are quite recent, about two years, and support many of the New Zealand cultivars in the collection. The membrane covering the ground was even more recent, so I understand, put down just before we arrived to smarten up the pot storage area.
In such an undertaking everything takes time and effort, and of course you still have to continually tend and look after the existing collection.
A large part of the collection is still grown in pots but gradually the majority are being replanted in the ground. In the long run this should reduce some of the maintenance required by the collection by avoiding regular repotting to stop the plants getting rootbound. But it's a long job, especially when the workforce are all volunteers, giving up precious free time to work in all weather conditions.
I can't finish with Luscher Farm without featuring a couple of clematis, so I've selected two that caught my eye. The first is C. 'Ramona'. We saw a number of examples of this clematis in various gardens. It always looked good, nice size and shape to the flowers, vibrant colour, and a beautiful contrasting centre. This was growing near the old farmhouse and it looked especially good to me against the backdrop of the white closeboard wood.
My second is C. 'Sundance', which as far as I remember was growing in a pot in the greenhouse. I love species clematis, but this pale yellow flower is particularly well set off by the red and green of the centre. C. 'Sundance' is a cross between C. ispahanica with a member of the Tangutica Group. Brewster Rogerson observed that whilst it doesn't climb, it can grow to 2.6 metres or more.
I leave you with the view that passers by get of the Rogerson Clematis Collection at Luscher Farm. The footpath around the farm gets quite a lot of people - out for exercise, walking a dog, enjoying the fresh air. Today they must have had a bit of a surprise to see our group, swarming over the clematis around the old farm house like bees around a honey pot.
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