Co-owners partner with plant society to welcome visitors to July 22 event

Visitors to the Ainsworth House and Gardens open garden self-guided tour on July 22 will see a riot of colorful roses, lilies, late-blooming iris, hydrangeas and clematis, among other flowers.

This is the first year that Ainsworth House co-owners Bud Bowen and Kevin Yell have partnered with the Hardy Plant Society to open their gardens to the public.

“A lot of people know what the place looked like when it was not lived in. It has taken us seven years to build pathways” and get the gardens in shape, said Yell, who purchased the historic house in 2005 with Bowen.

At that time, “the pine tree was on its last legs, but now is more vibrant than ever, and we have a lovely English rose garden. There are a lot of fun things to see, especially for those who remember what it looked like before, and what it’s been through,” Yell SUBMITTED PHOTO - Bud Bowen, co-owner of the Ainsworth House and Gardens, peeks out from behind some lilies.

Bowen recently took a master gardener class through the program at Clackamas Community College and learned so much, Yell said.

“Bud really appreciates the community that builds from those classes,” he said. “People come back to swap hints and seeds. This open garden event allows us to give back to the gardening community that has been so generous and supportive of us.”

Bowen is a member of eight Portland-area garden societies, each with people who are passionate gardeners.

“It is that camaraderie that inspires me to learn from nature as my friends do and share what has been blessed to me. My experience with gardens has always been one of sharing,” Bowen said.

“Plants named after people have a story to tell that needs to be passed on. I have the privilege to share two-plus acres of creative ‘clay soil’ that many gardeners relate to so well. When people visit, you should hear the stories that are evoked by a memory or experience from a flower or tree. Working as an R.N. it does not take long to realize that life is too short to not take time to stop and smell the roses.”

The Ainsworth House and Gardens and the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon will hold a self-guided, open garden event at the historic house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 22. Light refreshments will be available, and the owners will be on hand to answer questions.

The house was built in 1851 as a wedding gift from his new father-in-law to Capt. John Comminger Ainsworth on the occasion of his marriage to Jane Whyte, daughter of Oregon City’s Judge Whyte.

The house came with 18 acres, probably given out of the judge’s original square-mile land bequest. The house is a magnificent, and in this area, unusual, example of the Greek revival style more common in the American South and very fashionable around 1850.

Ainsworth, then in his mid-20s, had come to Oregon City from working as a river captain on the Mississippi. His first local commission was as captain of The Lot Whitcomb, named after one of the boat’s owners, a successful Milwaukie businessman.

The house kept all 18 acres until around 1990, when most of it was sold, and the remaining structure, now almost dilapidated, was threatened with demolition. A local family, at considerable personal expense, saved the house and restored it to its present magnificence, building also a reception room, now called The Garden Room, and offering a wonderful black and white tiled floor for dancing.

It was extended with the building of The Conservatory in 2005 by the present owners, Bud Bowen and Kevin Yell.

In 2005, the house had been unoccupied for more than two years, so the gardens were replanted and restored, transforming them from a vacant lot look of brambles, English ivy 30 feet up some trees and three years of leaf drop, to the beginnings of what the gardens are today.

Virtually all the plants people see today and even many of the trees were not here when the property was last purchased in March 2005.

The third property on the grounds is The Cottage, originally built in the 1870s and first located around the falls area of Oregon City, where it sat in a flood plain. The cottage was moved in the 1960s to preserve it from further damage. It was used as a caretaker’s cottage and is now an office and storage facility.

The Ainsworths lived in the house for a few years, the captain feeling the need to follow the growth of commerce as it moved from Milwaukie to “Stumptown,” which then became Portland.

The house received its name when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, celebrating the early Oregon beginnings of a man who went on to be a founding father of the business and banking life of the new city.

The prominent Ponderosa tree is considered a Heritage Tree by the city of Oregon City.

Visit the website at for directions to the Ainsworth House and Gardens, located at 19130 Lot Whitcomb Drive in Oregon City.

In addition to July 22, the gardens will also be open on Aug. 13, from noon to 6 p.m.; Sept. 9, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Sept. 10, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

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