Book Review: Pacific Northwest Garden Tour

The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour is brimming with reasons to visit the gardens in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. It's enough to make anyone who has ever given a flower a second glance to throw caution to the wind, say tah tah to reason and hop a plane to Portland.

Donald Olson's new book, published by Timber Press, is good enough to make even the casual gardener add an arboretum or two to their itinerary.

In the Pacific Northwest, you couldn't throw a stone without hitting a rhodo or a rose or a moss-covered surface. Anyone seeing the region for the first time (or any time for that matter) can improve their trip with a little perspective to go along with their oohs and aahs. That perspective should be provided by Olson's book.

Magnolia wilsonii at Hoyt Arboretum, 2007.
He names Portland, OR, Seattle, WA and Vancouver and Vancouver Island in British Columbia the three great garden cities in the Pacific northwest. From just a handful of visits, I would have to agree. The three cities are tied together in the introduction, where Olson compresses the history and hits the highlights of how the area became the garden paradise it is known to be today.

For example, the Hoyt Arboretum was completed during the Depression era with labor from F.D. R.'s Works Progress Administration program. It was at the Hoyt Arboretum that I fell in love with Magnolias.

The Dog-friendly Garden at Oregon Garden in Silverton (2007)
I like that the book has a short rundown at the beginning of each entry--hours, admission, address and phone, etc. The book's format, in which each region is divided into areas makes the book even more accessible. Olson has created a round-up of public gardens, independent nurseries, sanctuaries, former estates and urban parks. You'll find a bit of history on each place, plus lots of behind the scenes tidbits.

One of the first gardens I toured in 2007 was Oregon Garden in Silverton. According to Olson, it opened in 2000 as an outdoor showplace for the Willamette Valley horticulture industry.

A patch of, at the time, unnamed Helenium at Joy Creek (2008).
Now, it is managed by a company that operates the Oregon Garden Resort, which features an on-site hotel. In 2007 when we visited, they were putting finishing touches on the resort buildings. We stayed there in 2013, and enjoyed it just as much as we had six years earlier, even though it never stopped raining for an entire day.

The Garden Writers Association held its annual conference in Portland, OR in 2008 and I visited a whole new set of gardens, including two mentioned in the Pacific Northwest Garden Tour--Cistus Nursery, and Joy Creek Nursery, both of which deserve a spot in any book for Oregon gardeners.
Astoria-Megler Bridge from our hotel room (2008).

Packing up plants (2008)
When I visited Joy Creek, I was enthralled with the healthy and vivid Heleniums. I didn't buy any but I did have them ship me a Clematis and a Kniphofia.

It was 2008 that we drove across the Astoria-Megler Bridge from Astoria into Washington for a day. Our trip was coming to an end, and I was looking forward to planting all of the goodies I received at the Garden Writers event.

Siberian iris 'So Van Gogh' at Mid-America Garden (2013).
Olson nails the back story of Sebright Gardens, and its affiliation with Mid-America Garden. Sebright is a nursery specializing in shade plants that also has gorgeously-landscaped display gardens. I remember as I meandered through Sebright's display beds wondering why the landscaped grounds seemed to suddenly shift to a display of row upon row of peonies and irises. I didn't know it until I saw Olson's book, but the Mid-America Garden, adjacent to Sebright, is devoted to irises, and is a great place to take a gander at the latest varieties.

The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour  is as vital an item to pack on a trip west as comfortable shoes, plenty of time and a camera. Its small size and tons of photos make it a great companion on the plane if you haven't already dog-eared its pages marking the places you want to see before you've even scheduled your vacation.

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