DIGGING IN THE DIRT

August 30, 2001 11:00 pm
Elaine Shawaker works at The Botanical Garden Friday. ().
Elaine Shawaker works at The Botanical Garden Friday. ().

World War II victory gardens, The Botanical Garden and the Welcome to Oregon state line sign all have one thing in common: the Brookings-Harbor Garden Club.

The club started in 1945 with three goals: coordinate interests in victory gardens, promote better gardens for better homes and learn more about horticulture.

Those objectives were achieved and now, more than 55 years later, the clubs influence can be seen in a variety of Brookings locations.

Some of the club projects have included landscaping and maintaining flora at the Welcome to Oregon sign at the state line, the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce office at the port, the patio area at the Welcome Center, the heather bank at Azalea Middle School and at Brookings City Hall.

However, the club may best be known for The Botanical Garden in the triangle on Highway 101 just north of the Chetco River bridge.

The Botanical Garden is approximately two acres and was first raised as a possible project at a 1975 meeting of the club.

The Oregon Department of Transportation owns the property and the club filed an application with the department showing its landscape plans for the triangle.

In 1979, two Boy Scouts assisted the club members in clearing the property.

It wasnt until many years later, in 1990, that the garden as it is seen today began to take shape.

More than 10 years of work has produced a garden with five benches, a water fountain, an irrigation system, a Christmas tree, paths, an Oregon native plants garden and a perennial garden.

But the garden path wasnt an easy one for the club to walk.

In August 1990, Betty Crooks, a member of the club, suggested having a garden of plants native to Oregon at the triangle space.

In October of that year a formal meeting of the Oregon Natives Committee was held. A second committee for perennial plants was set up as well. Club member Pauline Hoskinson agreed to draw up a landscape development plan for the triangle.

Research on Oregon native plants was done by Marge Russell and Lois Edmundson, and the committee talked about materials to be used for paths, bogs and other items. In January 1991, Hoskinson submitted a plan and the garden was one step closer to reality.

In March of that year the club began the physical work of cleaning out the space to ready it for planting.

Little did we realize how many rocks were in the soil at the triangle, said Barbara DeMoss, a member of the club.

In April, Randy Piper of Landmark Construction volunteered his time and heavy equipment to move piles of chips, excavate bogs and begin construction on the berms.

In July, after several work parties had toiled with the soil, the club was beginning to see progress.

In September, the bogs were built and vinyl laid by committee members. With members and volunteers working every day, the bogs were filled.

In November, the committee experienced some sadness with the death of original member Marge Russell. A memorial fund was set up in her name and a memorial bench and water fountain are in the garden in her memory.

Later that year, paths were cleared, soil was moved into the bogs and rocks were placed in the dry creek.

Ten months had passed since the club began getting the triangle ready and it was now time to begin planting.

Several plants were put in the soil on the front berm including Pacific Wax Myrtle, Sword Fern and Tiger Lilys. Plans were mapped out for the locations of other plants. The garden was starting to take shape.

In February 1992, excavation for the paths began and the City of Brookings started installation work on the watering system.

The first major problem was encountered with the water system.

The city couldnt drill under the street and eventually had to dig it up, which caused a delay in getting water to the garden.

March saw the first planting of rhododendrons in the garden and April saw the water lines become a reality.

One of the most productive days occurred one month later in May when a full day of work finished the paths.

The first memorial bench, one of five memorial benches in the garden, was dedicated to Marge Russell in July. A second bench was dedicated that same month for Barbaras husband, Don Demoss, who drowned in a boating accident. Before the garden was even planned, Don would mow it and keep the weeds down during the summer, Barbara said.

July also saw much of the bark being spread around the garden.

In October, Congressman Peter Defazio visited the garden and was most impressed with our progress, Barbara said.

With winter 1993 came bad weather and slow progress, but wild flower seeds were planted. In early spring of that year, a drip water system was installed. Bark continued to be spread and flora planted until September 1993 when the Brookings-Harbor Garden Club officially disbanded both Botanical Garden committees. The club appointed members to be in charge of the garden and plans were made for its future maintenance.

Plants werent the only things blooming during the making of the garden. Love bloomed between Barbara DeMoss and Kent Russell, whose spouses had passed away. They have been together for more than eight years.

DeMoss and Russell were volunteers and, along with other volunteers, were a big part of the process at the garden. Many community members and businesses donated time and items such as bark and top soil.

The club continues to maintain the garden. Each year, Christmas lights are placed on the tree that can be seen from the highway. Coos-Curry Electric assists the club in stringing the lights.

To maintain the garden, the club hosts work parties twice a month with six to 20 people attending, but often members will show up on their own at different times during the week to prune and groom the garden.

The clubs current projects at the garden include refurbishing the benches, regravelling the inner paths, laying more bark and maintaining the plants.

The club is nonprofit and most of the money used for projects comes from its plant sale during the Azalea Festival.

More than 100 members belong to the club, but it is always looking for more people to join.

Anyone can join. We welcome new members, both men and women, said Barbara.

There are no requirements (to join) other than an interest in gardening, said Karen Munson, president of the club.

For information on the club or The Botanical Garden, call Munson at (541) 469-1043.