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Master Gardener Extraordinaire

A walk down the garden path full of surprises
by: John Brewington MASTER—Denny Snyder has created something of a gardening paradise. He grows orchard and garden produce plus a wide variety of decorative plants.

Walking around Denny Snyder's garden reveals dozens of trees and plants common to the Pacific Northwest, and it also constantly surprises with dozens most of us have never seen or ever heard about.

For those who love gardening, it's an aficionado's delight.

Snyder, 67, and his wife of 46 years, Susan, moved to the St. Helens area just so they could garden, raising both food stuffs, and decorative plants. Snyder spent most of his life in Sherwood before retiring from the phone company after 33 years. He first moved to Southwest Portland before moving out this way 12 years ago.

He is much more than just your weekend gardener. He's a Master Gardener, and teaches some classes in the program.

'I've always been a gardener, now I just do it more seriously,' he says. He joined the Master Gardener's program about 10 years ago. He noted that a part of the program is to pay back for the classes. 'I've been involved with the community garden, the demonstration garden (at the fairgrounds). I've met some really great people with common interests.'

Snyder' expertise shows in the way he manages his gardens and flowerbeds. He has a small walk-in greenhouse where he at least initially grows much of what he will move outside. He shows off a blooming yellow cherry tomato plant and offers a hungry visiting reporter a taste. Very nice.

The cool and wet spring weather over the past couple of years has spurred innovation on Snyder's part. He's taken some 8-foot concrete reinforcing wire and built some small 50-foot-long Quonset Hut-style row covers to shelter his tomatoes and other plants. The plastic covering has holes to keep it from getting too warm inside and damaging plants from the heat. He also uses black plastic to raise the soil temperature for peppers and tomatoes.

Snyder notes that a soil temperature thermometer is handy. Most come with a guide that tells what temperature seeds will germante.

He's also developed his own-style watering system.

'It's windy out here and I noticed that my watering wasn't very effective,' he said of his first year planting. He went to a soaker system he designed that runs off a PVC pipe onto the soaker tubes. He uses a variation of that on his many trees.

Those trees include apple (24), plum, peach, some special disease-free walnuts (6) and filberts (2), a hardy, grape-sized kiwi, paw paws and a few others.

He's also got blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and rhubarb. His potatoes are already growing well. He has melons and pumpkins fed by water warmed in a barrel.

Overall, he'll put nearly a quarter-acre into just the garden on his two acres. One also notices the 6-foot tall fence with barbwire up another two feet.

'Deer are a constant problem,' Snyder says, 'but the fence helps.'

A catalogue is almost needed to list the wide variety of decorative plants. Even the Snyders can't remember the name of some. It's impressive though. Succulents, cacti, an Eskimo Sunset tree, special type of oaks, flowers, and the list goes on and on.

Asked about how to take a cutting for clematis, Susan goes inside and emerges with a reference book that gives several hints.

'I have a lot of these reference books,' Snyder says. 'They can be very helpful.'

Snyder spreads his wealth of knowledge by teaching a grafting class at the Oregon State University Extension Office each spring. He also takes classes and works closely with Extension Agent Chip Bubl.

'I've had some interesting conversations with him,' Bubl says. 'He's done some really creative things. You really need to go out there and see it.'

Indeed, it's an interesting walk around his property. Snyder shares his harvest each year with family and friends. He has two children and grandkids. Snyder's neighbor loves his garden so much he put up a nice entrance gate in the fence from the backyard, an astute move for any garden lover with a garden like Snyder's next door.