11th annual event takes place Saturday at Fir Point Farms

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Flowers and plants, garden art and much more will be available at Gardenpalooza this Saturday.When Gardenpalooza first started 11 years ago, it proved to be a victim of its own success.

“The first one we did 11 years ago, was at the OSU research facility outside Wilsonville,” said Jeff Gustin, the event’s founder and creator of Garden Time, a popular home and gardening television show. “At that time Channel 12 was involved, we were the ones that started it as a station event, and we had 1,500 people show up. People were parking in Charbonneau and walking a half-mile. And they said ‘You know what, we love you guys, but please don’t come back.’”

That was in 2002.

Nowadays, Gardenpalooza, which brings the public together with a virtual smorgasbord of local nurseries, farmers, tool companies and other vendors, can look back on those days with a chuckle. It has attracted up to 9,000 visitors at a time and now is attracting sponsorships from major companies in the gardening world.

At the same time, Gustin said, the main focus was, and will continue to be the smaller vendors who might not be able to afford a large marketing budget.

“We started years ago as a way to get small vendors together so people could buy from the small growers,” he said. “A lot of the smaller nurseries grow a few types of plants and they don’t really have a budget to market to a large audience. This event came up to showcase those smaller growers.”

This year’s event is set for Saturday, April 6, at Fir Point Farms just outside Wilsonville. There will be just shy of four-dozen vendors with thousands of plants, tools and décor for gardeners of all descriptions.

“This is our first year of doing this, and Jessica and I are really excited to host it,” said Jack Romaine, who along with his wife co-owns both Fir Point Farms and the adjoining Country Grains bakery and café. “It’s a great event, it’s a local event, most all of the vendors and things are local. We have around 40 different vendors coming from the area. It has a really great following, and the people who do come absolutely love it.”

And as an added bonus, Judy Alleruzzo and William McClenathan, co-hosts of Garden Time, the popular show on Portland station KOIN, will be there to meet and greet the public. They also will be giving away a pallet of Black Gold fertilizer as an added bonus.

The entire event is free and open to the public. Families, especially, are encouraged to head on down to Fir Point Farms, which features a range of livestock, including goats, rabbits, sheep, chickens and even a pair of miniature horses. There aren’t any crops sprouting from the field just yet, but there are other kid-friendly attractions, as well as Country Grains, itself a popular bakery and sandwich outlet that moved to its current location from Wilsonville’s Main Street at the beginning of the year.

Experience has taught Gustin and his wife, Therese, to tailor Gardenpalooza to match other events going on this time of year in the north Willamette Valley.

“We usually try to get that first weekend in April for the event so that way it’s right when the tulips bloom,” he said. “We had people a couple of years ago who wanted us to move the event to Hillsboro or Vancouver, but really, a lot of people this time of year are headed down to see the tulip fields. There are a lot of events in south Clackamas County and north Marion County and a lot of people make a day of it.”

Fans of 1990s era rock music may get a jolt of nostalgia from the name Gardenpalooza, which Gustin said is no accident.

Named in part for the popular music festival Lollapalooza, which took off in the ‘90s and has experienced a recent resurgence, Gardenpalooza also is intended to be a feast for the senses in much the same way the original Lollapalooza offered its audience music, food, art, and other interactive experiences.

“Some people thought it was too much of a knockoff,” Gustin said. “But because it had ‘garden’ in the name everybody kind of loved the name and we grabbed on to it.”

So far, said Romaine, the rabid customer base that helped them build a Wilsonville destination has stuck with them since they moved with their business to the farm. Now, they also are hoping to continue what the Gustins helped start.

“I think it also just brings more people to our area, the Canby, Wilsonville, Aurora area,” he said. “It helps everybody out. We’re just thankful to have something like that at our place and hope to continue it for years.”

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