This is the first of my informal reports on our Conference and Constitutional General Meeting in Portland, Oregon, USA in September 2010. For the second report, please click here. For the third 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.
The Society first visited Portland in 2001. For this, our return, we stayed at University Place, a hotel and conference complex run by Portland State University. It has the advantage of being very conveniently located at the southern end of downtown Portland, a few minutes walk of the free downtown transport services.
Monday September 6th saw just under 100 people representing 10 countries converge on University Place for the start of our one week conference. They had arrived by plane, by car. by bus and even by train - Fiona and I had flown into Seattle the previous day and had a very comfortable and relaxing journey by Amtrak Cascades train to Portland Union Station, a fine building at the northern end of downtown Portland. The train runs close to the coast for much of the journey and is a very scenic ride. Having never used trains in the USA before, we'd certainly use one again.
First Evening Festivities
The weather was very kind to us that first evening as we gathered by the pool for pre-dinner aperitifs and canapés. It was good to see old friends again but also a number of new faces. Fortunately we didn't know that this would be the best evening, weather-wise, for a few days!
But it was soon time to move inside for the buffet dinner, very well presented and very tasty. In fact a number of people were overheard saying they wished they had been a little more restrained with the canapés.
Dinner might be over but the evening festivities were only just beginning. They started with welcomes from Sally Geist, the President of the Friends of the Rogerson Clematis Collection (FRCC) and Ton Hannink, President of this Society.
This was followed by the Digital v Film Debate. Since the advent of the digital camera, there has been much discussion as to whether a presentation using digital images can ever be as good as one using 35mm slides. It is certainly true that in the early years, 35mm slides were far superior, but digital technology, both within the camera, in PCs and in digital projectors, has developed at a phenomenal pace. So are digital images now equal to, or even better than, 35mm slides?
Moderated by myself, Linda Beutler put the case for 35mm slides, while Roy Nunn was promoting digital images. Both showed pictures to illustrate the strengths of their side, with subjects chosen at least partially to demonstrate difficult situations, for example the colour, blue.
As moderator I have to admit that conditions could have been fairer. In particular, the 35mm projector that we had was not as bright as the digital projector, nor could it project as big an image and still be seen in the half-dark room, so it is perhaps not so surprising that, by show of hands, digital technology took the day. My thanks to both Linda and Roy for their efforts and enthusiasm, and I'm sure this debate will continue.
Next on the programme, adding some culture to the evening, we had opera - in the guise of the Goddess Flora Chorus and Deadheading Society. Directed by Steve Peter (left) with Doug McCleary as accompanist(right), this group (centre) gave a hilarious performance of four specially written horticultural choruses.
Special because the words (three by Linda Beutler, the other by Robb Rosser) were all set to well-known tunes. So we had "Mr Plantman" to the tune of "Mr Sandman", "Because they're vines" to the tune of Johnnie Cash's "I walk the line", "Clematis! Clematis!" to the tune of "Camelot" and an encore of "Helleborous" to the tune of "Oklahoma".
I am very pleased to have been granted permission to reproduce the words of these musical masterpieces on this site, please click on Goddess Flora Chorus Musical Masterpieces and share our in our pleasure. Note, the songsheet is an A4, 2 page PDF file. Printed double-sided and you'll have a handy little booklet of the words.
The next day dawned in a rather cloudy, overcast and slightly damp way. After what I can only describe as a "unique breakfast experience" (though we were to have seven more), we boarded our coaches and headed out to Kinzy Faire, the garden of Penny Vogel, where we spent the morning. And an intermittently damp morning it was too, not that that stopped many of our party from disappearing off into the many corners that this garden has as soon as they got off the coaches.
Richard Green and Ian Lang wrote about Kinzy Faire in Clematis International 2006, but the Society had not visited here before. The garden has grown up over many years to the extent that there is something of interest around every corner, behind every shrub, and often climbing up nearly every tree. Even with light rain falling, within a few minutes our group of nearly 100 people had all but vanished into this garden.
One of the quirks of the garden are the bird boxes, in all sorts of architectural styles, dotted all over the garden. Quite a lot of them are used in the spring.
There are many different objects in this garden to act either as focal points or as supports for plants - or both. I loved this old iron frame, possibly a bedstead, I'm not sure, but perfectly as ease in this situation.
One of the fascinating things of this garden was how there always seemed to be one more flower that somehow you'd overlooked. You could stand in the same place for ages, admiring something, and then suddenly notice another plant you'd initially missed. It's a mark of how natural the planting is that everything looks "just right".
Penny rents the ground from the owner, Millie, and despite her age (89 I believe someone said), Millie was there to greet us. Apparently her grandparents moved to the farm in 1912. Millie has lived there since 1935 and had built most of the buildings. She still likes the occasional drive around on the tractor!
The weather did clear up a little during the morning and over lunchtime. Then it was time to head back for a free afternoon for most and a Council Meeting for the few.
That evening we boarded the coaches again for a short ride to northern downtown Portland and the Lucky Lab Beer Hall, for a light supper and a sampling of Lucky Lab beers.
Micro and specialist breweries are very popular, offering a range of premium tasting beers and ales, and Lucky Lab is no exception. If memory serves me correctly there were 6 different beers on tap to taste, and we had a lot of fun trying them all.
However it wasn't a good idea to leave your beer unattended (or in this case, MY beer), as you can see to your right!
Brewster Rogerson had joined us for the evening and in his honour, Lucky Lab had made a special bottling of Brewster's Best Bitter, complete with personalized labels. Brewster was, of course, given the first to sample, but after that we were all given a bottle to drink there or take back and drink later.
The evening went very quickly and all too soon it was time to get back on the buses to return to University Place and bed. We thank Lucky Lab Beer Hall, and all their staff, for serving us so well and giving us an excellent evening.
Garden of Doris StarrettDay 2 started with slightly better weather than day 1, still cloudy but not actually raining and with the possibility of sun in the afternoon, as we set off in the buses for the garden of Doris Starrett. She lives in an old(ish) residential area, quite small roads and quite hilly. I often wonder what neighbours think as two large coaches negotiate roads which are a challenge for large cars.
It is obvious as one approaches her garden that she is a most determined person. No one else would dream of creating a garden on such a steep slope. The terracing required to keep things in place is very substantial, but still very attractive, using large wooden sleepers to soften the look. It is also clear that Doris has spent time in the far east and enjoyed the culture, as she has many oriental touches in the garden, starting with the bamboo entrance.
The garden is quite small and it was quite a challenge for it to hold nearly 100 people, especially since the paths along the terracing were often barely wide enough for a single person. However there was a very good vantage point on the road that goes across the top of the garden and the fencing along this side of the garden was soon full of on-lookers, overseeing the whole of the garden.
Doris has been a volunteer at the Friends of the Rogerson Clematis Collection for some years and this has allowed her access to clematis not available to most gardeners. The weather over the summer in the USA meant quite a few clematis that would normally be expected to be in flower at this time in the season had either gone over already or were yet to bloom, but there were still some very nice specimens to be seen, such as this C. texensis, looking good in spite of the rain.
It may be a small garden but there was an awful lot in it, plants, sculptures, custom-built trellis, handmade bamboo fences and structures. A very individual garden and with lots of lovely interesting touches.
Deepwood EstateFrom the garden of Doris Starrett, it was but a short drive to the Deepwood Estate where we were welcomed and immediately ushered into a large marquee, set for lunch. I can't remember all that we had, but there was a fabulous salad, very fresh and very tasty. As we ate, we were told a little about the estate and the gardens that surround the attractive the 1894 Queen Anne style house in the centre of the gardens.
The house was designed by William Knighton for Dr. Luke Port and his family, who bought a large block of land in Salem in 1893. William Knighton eventually became Oregon's first State Architect, designing the Oregon Supreme Court Building and the Governor Hotel in Portland. Unfortunately due to family issues the Ports never lived in the house and it was sold to George and Willie Bingham. George Bingham was the Salem District Attorney and the Bingham family lived in the house for 28 years, until the deaths of George and then Willie meant that the house was sold to Clifford Brown in 1924. He died in 1927 but his wife, Alice, continued to live in the house and it was during this period that she commissioned Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver to design the gardens. Lord and Schryver founded their own Landscape Design company which flourished for over 40 years. Their influence on garden design in the northwest cannot be underestimated.
The garden is divided into "rooms", each with a different theme and designed to be used for a different purpose, whether for activities such as picnics, contemplation, or a source of flowers for the house. We were split into small groups and each taken on a guided tour by a volunteer from the Friends of Deepwood. Unfortunately time was pressing and in spite of the fine weather our tours had to be cut a little shorter than perhaps we would have liked. But it was very interesting to see and here about the design and also to see that the gardens are being restored and maintained for future generations to enjoy. I leave you, therefore with a few different views.
Garden of Dave and Pat EckhardtFor the past 20 odd years Dave and Pat Eckhardt have lived in what used to be an old (1893) coaching house, though it has been quite extensively extended and modified. Even as one walks through the gates, their loves of plants in general and clematis in particular is evident. With the greetings over, we were let loose to discover what makes this so special a garden.
And this didn't take long because, within a few steps of the entrance was this unique gateway, complete with bird silhouettes.
This was the first of many steel structures and sculptures that adorn this garden, though some were more multifunctional, such as the arch column in the picture to your left. Not only beautiful in itself with the metal vine encircling the column, it acts as a support for the clematis. And look towards the top and you'll see an example of Pat's stained glass work.
Pat Eckhardt is a skilled artist working in both mosaics and stained glass and there are many examples of each throughout this garden. However because of the extensive planting and the realistic artwork I found them remarkably unobtrusive, blending in so well with the surrounding environment that sometimes you believe, at least from a distance, they were the real flowers.
There were interesting corners all around the garden but my favourite area was the part-walled courtyard garden. There were two key reasons for this. I always like old brick walls and this had one along one side that was cloaked with clematis, chosen I suspect to give colour throughout the season. However the main reason was the beautiful end wall, which contained an amazing stained glass scene of clematis. In itself it is one of the best clematis stained glass windows I believe I have seen, but the idea to position it so as to look like a window giving a view out over a further clematis flowerbed was genius.
Although these two pictures barely do it justice, hopefully you can see how the stained glass has been blended into the garden by careful positioning and training of real clematis and the butterfly artwork.
I am assured by those in our group who know about these things that the garden contained a great many rare and desirable specimen flowers, shrubs and trees, but for me the clematis stained glass window was what I coveted.
Ferguson's Fragrant Nursery
Our last visit of the day, and also our venue for dinner tonight, was Ferguson's Fragrant Nursery near St. Paul and halfway between Salem and Portland. Owned and run by Danielle and Jeff Ferguson, it specializes in fragrant plants as one might expect. But they are also keen to bring textures to the garden and on combination planting, and have a fine display garden to demonstrate just a few ideas of what can be done with some of the plants they can supply. And this includes clematis, but then we all know just how good they are as combination plants.
The arch to your left is a classic example of combining roses and clematis, using a colour scheme that rarely fails of blue and pink. The main display area was located behind the polytunnels towards the rear of the nursery. Here there were wide beds of all types of plants and, in spite of the uncommon summer weather everyone had been talking about since we arrived in Oregon, it was a riot of colour, texture and, of course, scent.
And there were still clematis to find, such as this one in amongst a feathery grey foliage shrub.
Although some had been queuing for a while, it took failing light and falling drizzle to bring the last few of us into the polytunnel for dinner, described in our programme as an "authentic Mexican tamale feast". All the food had been prepared and cooked by staff on the nursery and was served by volunteers from the neighbouring St Paul Garden Club. They said that when they heard Danielle was hosting tonight's dinner they immediately offered to help - they just wanted to repay her for all the help and support she gives their garden group!
I'm no expert on Mexican cooking and had never eaten tamales before so I was intrigued as to what they were, especially as these parcels of "something" wrapped in the outer leaves of corn cobs was put on my plate. There were two variants as far as I remember, cheese and chicken, and as I unwrapped the leaf the most wonderful aromas were released. Needless to say, I thought they were delicious, especially when accompanied by a cold Mexican beer.
If that was a surprise, the desert course was a revelation. I had no idea what to expect of a Mexican desert but I certainly wasn't expecting the colourful Mexican fruit tart that followed the main course. It consisted of layers of very thin pastry, a bit similar to filo pastry, with a cream or custard filling, and completely and colourfully covered by fresh fruit. Very light, very fresh and delightful end to the meal.
So we give a big "Thank You" to Danielle, to her staff who prepared our dinner and to the volunteers from St. Paul Garden Club who served it. And I leave you with one other speciality of Ferguson's Fragrant Nursery - giant hanging baskets. Dotted around the nursery, they were spectacular. But I think we'd need to reinforce our porch before we tried to hang one of these in it!
Return to top of page
Return to Homepage