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Invest in this berry garden, reap reward

The end result isn't edible but of the job-well-done sort

The name makes you think of warm, late spring days and sunny beds filled with strawberries.

Surprise! The Berry Botanic Garden is named for its late owner, Rae Selling Berry, and there's nary a cultivated berry in sight.

The 6-plus-acre, bowl-shaped garden, purchased by the nonprofit Friends of the Berry Botanic Garden after Berry's death in 1976, is the well-hidden treasure of the Dunthorpe neighborhood, south of Portland. And there's no better time to visit it than Saturday, May 18, when the group is enlisting volunteers to help prepare an outdoor classroom.

Admittedly, 'help prepare' is a euphemism for clearing debris and pulling English ivy, things you would do in your own yard if you had any inclination to do them at all. But a couple of hours of work at the garden will get you past its usual $5 admission charge and allow you to see it at its springtime best.

It's springtime best is lovely, indeed. Berry planted plants where they were best suited to grow, instead of where she wanted to plant them. As a result, her collection of alpine plants and primroses Ñ both of which should be in bloom on the 18th Ñ was considered to be unrivaled outside the British Isles.

If you miss Saturday's soiree, you can connect with the garden later this spring and summer, when it will offer small classes Ñ 'How to Hack, Snip & Chomp Your Way Through Blackberry' is June 1 Ñ and sponsor hikes around such scenic sites as Larch Mountain and Lolo Pass. The Berry Botanic Garden's Web site, www.berrybot.org, has information on other classes.

While you're at Rae Berry's garden, take advantage of the opportunity to get a glimpse of her fascinating life.

Born in Portland in 1881 to a prominent Jewish clothier and his wife, Berry attended the forerunner to Catlin Gabel School. After graduation, she did the chaperoned world tour expected of her generation and class.

But her life took some unusual twists. She became deaf as a result of a hereditary condition that began its progression while she was still a teen-ager. And she showed her independence Ñ and broke with her family's religious and cultural traditions Ñ by eloping with an India-raised, English gentile.

In 1938, Berry and her husband bought 9 acres between Lewis & Clark College and the Willamette River that later became the smaller Berry Botanic Garden. The property had springs and creeks, meadow and marsh, and second-growth Douglas fir already a half century old. In short, it was everything she could want for the plants she was germinating from wild seeds collected in Europe and Asia by British 'plant explorers.'

Berry lived on the Dunthorpe property for 38 years, making daily tours of her garden with a procession of small dogs and, perhaps, a gardener. According to her biography, she used a hairpin to groom plants after she'd weeded them Ñ and also as a tool to spear slugs.

In her 70s and 80s, she was still making field trips to the Wallowa Mountains in search of Oregon's only indigenous primrose. At 90, she was planting seeds for rhododendrons she knew she wouldn't live to see bloom.

C'mon. If Berry could garden at 90, you can spend a few hours weeding her garden. Plan to reward yourselves with daiquiris or margaritas afterward, but remember Ñ you'll have to get the strawberries somewhere else.

Contact Janine Robben at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .