Numerous varieties of fruits, vegetables, and decorative plants on are display at the Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden at the county fairgrounds
For 20 years, Columbia County's Masters Gardeners have grown and nourished a demonstration garden at the Columbia County Fairgrounds.
It's an ambitious project that takes 15-20 of the gardening experts to maintain each year. An average Monday work party might have 12-15 show up. The gardeners have a work sheet, showing what areas they want to concentrate on. Originally, the garden was tilled under each year, but as it has evolved many of the plants and trees have become permanent.
Ross Carter, 72, is a Master Gardener who has been working on the garden for the past 10 years. He notes that Chip Bubl, the Oregon State University Extension Agent for Columbia County, is the head of the Master Gardeners program.
'Chip's goal is to have (the garden) educational so somebody can come and look at the garden and learn something-find something they can do at home, some way to improve their own garden,' Carter said.
The garden is an idyllic place with a mix of fruits, vegetables, and decorative plants in a nice setting just off the south entrance to the fairgrounds.
Carter said the gardeners use some of the produce, but the bulk of it goes to the Columbia Pacific Food Bank in St. Helens.
Carter said sometimes the neighbors, one in particular, seem to help themselves, despite signs to the contrary.
The garden is full of edibles, including apples, strawberries, grapes, rhubarb, blueberries, gooseberries, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and gourds. They have a special Triple Crown blackberry, as well.
Carter noted, 'We'll have a kiwi arbor we built a couple of years ago that will produce this year. '
The garden has an apple tree with four different varieties grafted on it-Yellow Delicious, Johnny Gold, Liberty, and Gravenstein. The demo also includes an herb garden, a shade garden, and a bog garden.
The garden includes a number of decorative plants, including a honeysuckle arbor. 'It's in the process of regrowing since it got frozen to the ground last year,' said Denny Snyder, 67, another well-known local Master Gardener. He noted they used to have roses, but they also froze last winter.
'The garden is always in transition,' Snyder said. 'We get together for several planning meetings at the beginning of the year, take a look and see what may or may not have survived the winter.'
He said Oregon has microclimates-areas just miles apart where things may freeze in one, but not in the other. Or one might get 10 inches of snow and the other two. Temperatures can wildly vary.
The garden is used to not only grow numerous varieties of plants, but they also demonstrate methods for controlling pests. A clay formula is being highlighted this year as a natural alternative.
'The garden is partially experimental,' Bubl added. 'It's supposed to look at different ways of growing things. This year we're trying to recreate the flavor of the famous Jersey Tomato by using seawater. We'll know in about a month.'
Additionally, Carter noted that because of the flowers, brides and grooms often use the garden to exchange vows.
The garden is growing well this season, despite the late, wet spring, but the gardeners biggest concern is that this could be the last year for it. Budget problems have placed the annual fair and with it, the demonstration garden in jeopardy. There have been some indications Columbia County officials will see the fair continue next year, but nothing has been formalized just yet.
This year, the Master Gardeners will enjoy showing off what they have done. The fair starts on Wednesday this week and the garden is sure to be a big attraction for local gardeners.