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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 5.10.07

Buy Plants, Grow Parklands

Oregon Plant Fair will support park acquisition effort

BY MARY-KATE MACKEY

It's not often you can buy unusual plants to beautify your home and at the same time help preserve the beauty of Lane County. But you'll get your chance on May 12 in Alton Baker Park. The area's newest garden club, Avid Gardeners, has joined with the oldest, the Willamette District Garden Clubs (which celebrates its 80th birthday this year) to put on the Oregon Plant Fair 2007.

Specialty nurseries from all over the state will be offering the hottest new varieties and choice tried-and-true favorites. Among the huge selection of plants, look for Bloom River Gardens' Japanese maple, Acer palmatum 'Red Pygmy.' Topping out at just six feet tall, the tree's long elegant leaves stay red all summer in filtered or full sun. Grow this one in a container or in the ground; it makes for great fall color. Garden Glory, the area's newest nursery, will be offering the African honey bush (Melianthus major) that shows off spectacular jagged blue-green foliage for a bold statement in a sunny spot. At the Northwest Garden Nursery table — they specialize in choice plants for the woodland — track down Chinese May apples (Podophyllum pleianthum) with huge glossy green leaves up to 18 inches across. This colorful plant is perfect for your shade garden. The bright red flowers hang in clusters beneath the leaves and are followed by red mango-shaped fruits.

Van Hevelingen Nursery will appear at the fair with a variegated cultivar of sweet bay (Laurus nobilis 'Sunspot'). Use the leaves in cooking like any bay, but this one only grows to eight feet — an excellent selection for smaller gardens. The Willamette District Garden Clubs has variegated Chinese horseradish starts from seed that was brought back from China. And don't forget to hunt for easy-care native plants — Northwest Native Trees will be the place to find them.

To top it off, a portion of the sale's proceeds support the Friends of Buford Park & Mt. Pisgah (www.bufordpark.org),whose mission is "to protect native ecosystems and compatible recreation in the Mount Pisgah area." The Friends propagate native plants at their own nursery for park restoration projects.

The idea for supporting ecological efforts in the community was part of the philosophy of Avid Gardeners when it was founded in July, 2006. "Avid Gardeners takes a broad view," says Ginny Hargreaves Saunders, one of the first members. "This club has been organized not only for fun and education but with a realization that we need to encourage everyone's enjoyment of the natural world."

Friends of Buford Park is leading local efforts to purchase 1200 riverfront acres owned by Wildish Land Co. and located next to Mount Pisgah. Fairgoers can learn about the park expansion project and sign up to volunteer support at the Friends booth. FBP executive director Chris Orsinger will present an aerial overview of the conservation project and the effort to mobilize federal, state and local funding at 12:20 pm.

Avid Gardeners may be the newest kid on the gardening block, but many of its founders are experienced gardeners and nursery growers. They like to take a long view of their gardening passion — with an ecological twist for this fair. "Think about all the gas you'll save," says Catherine Beard, another Avid Gardener. "If you had to travel to all those nurseries to pick out your plants, I bet you'd log over a thousand miles."

"At more than $3 a gallon for gas," says Avid Gardeners President Mark Bloom, owner of Bloom River Nursery, "you don't have to do the math." Spend those savings on plants, and both your garden and Mount Pisgah will be happy.

For more information about the plant fair, go to http://web.newsguy.com/gardenlover/oregonplantfair.htm