The term “demonstration garden” is a blanket term for gardens established and maintained by Master Gardeners around the state and the country. Displays and signage make them a year-round teaching tool and visual representation of the work of Master Gardeners.
In 1996 the Clatsop County Master Gardener Association began planning for its own demonstration garden, to be located at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds. The original plan envisioned a maze of arborvitae just south of the outdoor arena (an area that is now lawn). By late ’97, we began to put the plan into action. We purchased approximately one hundred arborvitae saplings in 3 gallon plants, and scurried to get them into the ground while they were still dormant. But it was winter—a particularly wet one—and it rained and rained and rained some more. With no proper site prep and no idea of the hydrology of the soil, we ended up working in a clay soup and our tiny arborvitae paid the price. The wind blew many out of their clay water bowls, and even more died for lack of drainage. Some were salvaged and moved to other parts of the fairgrounds when it became clear that the drainage issues and soil needed to be addressed to work this site.
That first experience was a bitter defeat, but as all gardeners know, all setbacks are only temporary, so we soon turned our attention to another area of the Fairgrounds, developing a plan to beautify the area just north of the footbridge. We submitted the plan to the board of the Clatsop County Fair and its manager at the time, Denny Holmes. Denny was a great promoter of our cause and we were able to come to an agreement with the Fairgrounds to develop a plot that not only would enhance the visual appeal of the landscape but would also demonstrate sustainable gardening practices and design to the public.
We were able to secure at $1,500 grant from the Hardy Plant Society to begin the design and planting process on the new site close to the bridge, and were thrilled to learn that unlike the previous site of our initial attempt, the new plot had great drainage, and that was improved even more by the considerable amount of composts we added to the soil. CCMGA work crews started beds on both sides of the then-gravel walking path that led from the bridge to the parking lot and exhibit hall, busting sod, amending the soil, installing a concrete border edging, planting all kinds of specimens—trees, shrubs, and other perennials—all the while tweaking the design for plants and paths. (The original railroad ties we installed are still doing their job.)
That first year the CCMGA Demonstration Garden notched a number of notable successes. We secured donations from a local nursery for birch trees and blueberries, which anchored the west side of the garden and thrived. On the other hand, the maple trees at the northern edge of the garden were doing poorly; we discovered that they had been planted at least a foot too deep, and were suffocating, so we dug them out, replanted them at the proper depth, and they began to bounce back. Other trees on the fairgrounds property beyond our garden’s borders were also dying from improper planting, so we advised Denny to get them dug out. We won some trust when those other trees on the site began to flourish after proper care.
In return for creating a beautiful landscape on the county grounds, over the years we have been able to use the fairgrounds for our two major fundraisers—our spring and fall plant sales and symposia—at NO CHARGE to us. The Demonstration Garden has been a source of income in that many of the plants we sold at our plant sales were initially divisions from the demo garden.
The Demonstration Garden has also been a tremendous educational resource, both for CCMGA members and the community at large. Throughout the year, veteran master gardener veterans and trainees have a chance to hone their skills for pruning, dividing, plant selection and identification, seed starting, composting, planting, and of course weeding and mulching.
In the garden we feature a cutting garden, vegetable beds, straw bale garden, plants for shade, herbs, vertical gardening, containers, berries, ornamental trees, conifers, annual borders and ground covers. Weather permitting, attendees at our Spring Seminar can wander the garden and see what we were doing with the information we were learning.
Likewise, during the week of the Clatsop County Fair, an annual event spanning the last week of July into the first week of August, the Demonstration Garden plays a big role. We try to time many annuals and perennials to be in full bloom in the garden during this time. That week we offer a plant clinic during the fair hours. Our booth at the fair gives the public a chance to see the garden, ask questions, enjoy a beautiful space to eat or just relax on a bench. We have had table talks, scavenger hunts, water testing, and educational work parties onsite.
In addition to those scheduled times when CCMGA members are present, people enjoy the Demonstration Garden all year long as the events that happen at the Fairgrounds onsite bring folks out weekly.
Over the more than twenty years since its inception, expenses for the Demonstration Garden have been mainly for plants, compost, and a gazebo, with a great deal of the funds obtained by dedicated fundraising and charitable contributions. The bulk of the conifers and some of the perennials were donations from speakers who taught at Spring Seminar. The gazebo was obtained by some donations and excellent shopping skills, reducing the cost to CCMGA. A $1,000 grant was obtained several years ago from the statewide Oregon Master Gardener Association to place signs for the perennial plants and shrubs. Many members and businesses have donated plants to color the garden for the fair. We also have set aside funds for a tool shed, which will be erected in 2021 in concert with a design overhaul.
One of the big events of 2019 was a project to trim the maple trees; those same maple trees that had struggled and had to be rescued in our early years, have been overly successful in the years since. As a result, even though they’re on the north edge, they were casting too much shade, and their expanded roots have consumed the surface of some planting areas. We had already installed large livestock tanks (perfect considering the venue) for displaying color perennials and annuals as the soil is very tight from the tree roots, and worked with both the fairgrounds manager and a local arborist to oversee the trimming of the trees allowing for more light in the garden.