Garden Tour Time!

Plus: 20 years in the making, the Botanical Garden is about to open

| June 11, 2009
"Rust never sleeps," the garden of Gisela and Jerry Rohde. Photo courtesy of Gisela Rohde.
"Rust never sleeps," the garden of Gisela and Jerry Rohde. Photo courtesy of Gisela Rohde.
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The Humboldt Botanical Gardens Foundation has brought the garden tour back this summer, and I'm glad to see it return after taking a hiatus last year. There are other changes afoot for the organization, but more about that in a minute. First, the gardens.

The focus this year is on Eureka and Bayside, with 13 gardens on display. Gisela and Jerry Rohde's garden, which they call "Rust Never Sleeps" after the rusty metal sculptures throughout the garden, will be open, as will "Goldfinch Gardens," the garden of Dave and Louise-Bacon Ogden. This is, as you can imagine, a bird-friendly garden, but in more ways than one: They've got a chicken coop tucked back there, so I'm sure chicken lovers will flock to this one. (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

Other cool gardens include the Eureka Adult Day Health and Alzheimer Services garden, which is not only a lovely thing for the folks at the facility but also an inspiring example of good water use: A bio-swale collects runoff and uses it in the landscape. Also, the Carter House is opening its kitchen garden, so get over there and start making plans for your own luxurious, brick-lined, beautifully designed vegetable garden.

It's happening on Sunday, June 28 from 10-5, and you can get tickets at garden centers around town or by calling 442-5139. Tickets are $15 for members and $20 for non-members and can be purchased at all of the gardens except Eureka Adult Day. The Bayside Grange, which is also on the tour, will serve tea and scones and have more info about HBGF available.

Okay, so check that out. Meanwhile, I was curious about what was happening with HBGF this year, so I called up the organization's new director, Max Abrahamsen, and grilled him about the future of the garden.

Max was born and raised in Eureka, had a career in Seattle in business consulting and accounting, did a short stint in Texas, and has now returned to enjoy his place in Redway and be near his mother in Eureka. He'll be the first to admit that he's not a horticulturalist but a business person -- and fortunately for HBGF he went right to work conducting a financial review of the organization and building a strategic plan.

"We're coming up on our 20-year anniversary," he said, "and we're making a lot of progress at the garden. But my first priority was to get the garden open to the public." So now the garden -- which, in case you haven't been, is located next to College of the Redwoods -- is open every Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. No appointment necessary, just show up and enjoy yourself.

Another goal was to get an expert gardener working at the site, and to that end they've hired Terry Kramer as their on-site gardener. So if you do drop by, you might see her out there, doing all the things that gardeners do.

"Now it's time to build out the four major gardens near the entrance," Max told me, "and finish the greenhouse, and get an admission kiosk set up." Much of this will be accomplished with a grant from Coast Central Credit Union, and once it's done, the garden will -- at long last -- start to walk and talk like a botanical garden. The gardens will be lush and mature. They'll charge admission. They'll have plant sales and classes in the greenhouse. A trail system, which is underway now, will allow people to more easily wander through a wider swath of the garden. Then, over the years, the rest of the 44-acre site can be planted in accordance with the design they've already laid out.

Whew. It's nice to see this thing finally take off. Max looks to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden for inspiration. "They get 60,000 visitors a year through that garden," he said. "That's a huge amount of economic activity." Getting just a fraction of that kind of tourism through the garden would be a big accomplishment, but there's more to do first, including launching a capital campaign to fund the various phases of construction and expanding the garden's membership to help support its day-to-day operation. Much of this will be kicked off in September, when they plan a gala event in the greenhouse, the grand opening of the ornamental terrace garden, and a celebration of the ‘soft opening' of the garden to the public.

"But through it all," Max said, "we want to continue our educational mission." With the garden located right next to College of the Redwoods, there are plenty of opportunities for classes, workshops and experiments on the garden's grounds. If you've got ideas, time or resources to contribute, I'm sure Max would love to hear from you. He'll be at the Bayside Grange on the day of the garden tour, so get over there and introduce yourself. As I travel the country and visit botanical gardens, I'm constantly reminded that most botanical gardens get their start when a wealthy plant lover endows their estate or their fortune for the purpose of starting a garden. It's unusual to do what we've done here in Humboldt -- to bootstrap the thing together, hold plant sales and fundraisers, and make something out of nothing. But it's coming together at last, in its own idiosyncratic Lost Coast style.

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thanks for the detailed coverage of the garden tour and the botanical garden. However, Amy chose to spend one whole paragraph on the business background of Max Abrahamsen, the new botanical gardens director... but said nothing about Terry Kramer, the on-site gardener. The fact that Terry Kramer wrote the Journal's gardening column years before Amy did, that she has written the gardening column for the Times-Standard for 2 decades, and that she is a trained horticulturalist, should have warranted at least a little paragraph, and the interest of Journal readers.

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Posted by Gardener fan on 06/14/2009 at 3:08 PM
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