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A botanical wonderland

PHOTO PROVIDED A weeping Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’) graces a pathway in the Oregon Garden’s conifer collection.

By Tom Butzler

(Editors Note: This article is the fifth in a series exploring professional opportunities for Penn State Extension agricultural educators during the 2019 summer.)

In last week’s column, I briefly described our first day of touring Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Rest was badly needed for the group because of traveling and touring. Since our tours for the week were concentrated within a small area, it was decided to have a central site for lodging. Our leader, Jeff Fowler (Penn State Extension educator in turfgrass), set up our stay in the Oregon Garden Resort in Silverton.

Upon arrival at the resort, many of us horticulture educators got our second wind for plants. Adjacent to our lodging was the 80-acre Oregon Garden, a massive planting and display of ornamentals.

Although a relatively new garden (groundbreaking in 1997), there was plenty to see. The entire planting is made up of 20 specialty gardens with something for every plant enthusiast. It took all our evenings, after each day’s tours, to fully explore all the nooks and crannies of this garden.

PHOTO PROVIDED The A-Mazing Water Garden is just one of many water features throughout the Oregon Garden to showcase water plants but also treat Silverton’s treated wastewater.

While all the specialty gardens were interesting, there were a few that I spent more time in than others. My favorite was the conifer garden, one of the largest US collections of dwarf, miniatures and oddities. Because of its popularity, the American Conifer Society is providing resources to double the size.

The more unusual conifer I saw was Picea abies “Cobra.” This Norway spruce cultivar has all its branch growth crawling along the ground (like a snake). Some landscapers will stake the tree for a unique look. Oregon’s Iseli Nursey describes it best, “when staked, trees have a relatively tall, straight, sparsely branched main trunk and a thick, ground-hugging skirt that radiates outward with dancing, cobra-like leaders.”

But the Oregon Garden was just more than pretty plants to gawk at. During the time period when the Oregon Association of Nurserymen was contemplating the build of this garden, the town of Silverton had some issues with its discharge of treated wastewater. The two entities partnered together and created a wastewater wetland garden. The design can handle 300 gallons per minute as water flows downhill through multiple small waterfalls and pools. The Oregon Garden uses this water for irrigation and a chance to feature native plant species in the ponds and tropical plants in the A-Mazing Water Garden. The other benefit is that temperature and nutrient load of the city’s treated wastewater is greatly reduced and meets the requirements of the state’s Clean Water Act.

In the next column, I’ll discuss the tour stops of Day 2, including Oregon’s comparable institution to Penn State University.

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Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.

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