Native Plant Garden
McMinnville Library
By Rob Tracey - Library's native plant garden, long labor of love
Published: May 22, 2004 McMinnville News Register

The library's native plant garden has now become well established. But have you ever wondered how it came to be in the first place and just what it attempts to demonstrate? The sign in front indicates it is a gift to the community from the Native Plant Coalition. But what is that and how did it come to be?

The garden we see now is a far cry from its humble beginning more than 20 years ago. In 1983, Rose Marie Caughran, then library director, was troubled by the lack of plants in the concrete planters within the atrium between the library and Carnegie Room. So she and a friend who had property along Baker Creek spent a day digging and transplanting native plants -Êwild rose, red flowering currant, Oregon grape, twinberry and mock orange - into the planters. She maintained the beds until her retirement more than 10 years later. The large, healthy shrubs that anchor the plantings in these beds stand as testimony to the dedication and perseverance she can demonstrate when she wants to get something done.

Following Rose Marie's retirement, Anne Van Sickle became library director and soon recognized the potential educational value in an expanded native plant garden. She asked the Yamhill County Master Gardeners to take responsibility for maintaining and expanding the garden. They began organizing and making plans. Over the next two years, they added wild ginger, salal, oxalis, tall Oregon grape and others. They also began a maintenance program that ensured the beds were attractive and cleaned at regular intervals. In 1996, the five raised beds officially were dedicated as the McMinnville Library Native Plant Garden.

When the library was required to undergo a seismic retrofitting in 1998, construction substantially impacted the landscaping nearest Adams Street and the fountain. It required almost complete replacement of the landscaping, but also provided an opportunity for the native plant garden to expand.

The Master Gardeners recognized they had just about all they could reasonably maintain with the five raised beds and approached the recently formed local chapter of the Native Plant Society of Oregon, which readily agreed to participate. In October 1998, the Master Gardeners, the NPSO chapter and the library formed the Native Plant Garden Coalition, specifically to "design, plant and maintain the expanded garden."

The coalition then formed a committee to design the garden. The library asked only that the architectural features of the Carnegie room not be obscured by the plantings and that the area low on the east wall of the building, which had been patched following the seismic work, be obscured.

The design committee conducted a number of meetings while attempting to determine the form and scope of the garden. Many suggestions and ideas of what "native" means and what shape the garden should take were considered. After numerous discussions, it was agreed any species native to the Willamette Valley and up to 400-feet elevation in either the Cascades or Coast Range would be eligible.

It also was determined we wanted a path through the planting so people actually could enter the garden; we wanted benches for relaxing and observing. We agreed we also wanted to demonstrate a multilayered canopy and exhibit plants with species that they are likely to be observed with in the wild. Early in 1999, the city and library approved the plan, and site preparation began soon thereafter.

The committee then began to contact numerous community members for donated materials.
We received financial contributions from the Master Gardeners, the Native Plant Society and the city. The financial contributions were used to purchase a few larger plants to provide an immediate impact following the initial planting. The great majority of plants, rocks and snags, gravel and the equipment used came either from donations from individuals or businesses.

Dozens of volunteers spent many hours removing sod and digging the shallow roots left by the huge old birch tree that had been removed from the site. Three or four work parties were required to prepare the site, construct the path and place the boulders and snags. The trees and shrubs were planted on July 3, 1999. A week later, the herbaceous perennials and smaller shrubs were planted. On May 21, 2000, the garden was once again dedicated and formally presented as a gift to the city.

Monthly work parties have continued ever since, although the crew has dwindled from the heyday of dozens. But five or six intrepid plant "nuts" keep the garden evolving. Plants continue to be introduced: some natives we wish we had never planted are continually removed to keep them from taking over, and then, of course, there are plenty of invasive exotics that find their way into the garden and need to be removed. Pruning goes on continually.
The alder grove is getting well "limbed up" to allow ample room below for numerous shrubs and herbaceous perennials that you are likely to find in an alder grove in the wild. The oak, incense cedar, Western red cedar, Western crabapple and blue elderberry all have been pruned and are displayed to demonstrate their potential for domestic use. The camas, red-flowering currant, checkermallow, monkeyflower, columbine, meadowrue, pearly everlasting, blue-eyed grass and numerous other perennials provide season-long color.

One of the primary interests of the planning group is to demonstrate the huge selection of native plants available for domestic landscaping. Native plants not only provide tremendous beauty and connection to our natural heritage, they also provide habitat for native birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

Once established, they require little or no supplemental water, saving an increasingly valuable natural resource. Native plants also are less susceptible to our climactic fluctuations, so are less likely to fail during a cold snap or dry summer.

The Native Plant Society has given related books to the schools and library, where brochures and coloring books for kids also are handy.

The garden is available for individuals to become familiar with the plants. I invite you to spend a little time, take in the beauty of our native flora and do try this at home.

Guest writer

Rob Tracey, manager of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, was district conservationist for the Yamhill Soil & Water Conservation District from 1988 to 2002. He is a founding member of the local chapter of the Native Plant Society and has worked on the garden from design of the expansion to last week's work party.