The Grove of the States needs our help.
We are very lucky in Oregon to have some stellar arboretums — places where the public can go to see an assortment of beautiful and sometimes rare plants to stir the imagination.
As one might expect, these facilities were created thanks in part due to the close involvement of the Oregon Association of Nurseries and its members.
In the Willamette Valley town of Silverton, the Oregon Garden continues to showcase Oregon’s horticultural diversity, and there are plans to expand its signature Conifer Garden in 2017 with a second phase. Over the years, the OAN and many of its members have helped the Oregon Garden vision come to life.
Meanwhile, up in Portland, the Hoyt Arboretum is a 175-acre wonder with 800 varieties of trees and shrubs, including one of the largest U.S. collections of conifers.
Both the Oregon Garden and the Hoyt Arboretum are fairly well known. However, we also have a forgotten treasure hiding in plain sight, languishing just miles from the heart of Nursery Country. Like the others I mentioned, it too had major nursery industry involvement.
Inspired by Lady Bird Johnson
Planted in late 1967, the Grove of the States is believed to be one of the oldest arboretums of state trees in the United States.
This collection is one of only two known arboretums in the U.S. to have at least one tree from each of the 50 states. (The other is the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.) Oregon’s Grove of the States was planted in response to the landmark Highway Beautification Act of 1965, which was spearheaded by Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson, then the First Lady of the United States.
The grove was dedicated at a national conference of state attorneys general that was held that summer in Portland.
Robert Y. Thornton, who was Oregon’s attorney general at the time, worked with the Oregon Highway Department (now Department of Transportation) to designate a portion of the French Prairie Rest Area — located south of Wilsonville on Oregon’s main thoroughfare, Interstate 5 — for the project. He secured donated tree stock from Oregon nursery growers. The plantings were done by volunteers at the Oregon Green Thumb Program (now known as Experience Works) as a way to involve economically challenged retired farmers.
With assistance of the OAN (then known as the Oregon Association of Nurserymen), Thornton came up with enough trees to be planted into the grove in time for the conference in Portland. The project was dedicated on Aug. 28, 1967. The hope and promise of the Grove of the States was to watch the trees grow in strength and beauty as the nation grew in prosperity.
Today, more than 2 million motorists visit the southbound French Prairie Rest Area every year, but many are not aware of the significance of the trees that are providing them with a shady, beautiful respite before they resume their travels.
Time takes its toll
Hindsight being 20/20, perhaps the nursery association should have been put in charge of the plantings. When the grove was first planted, no one took into account the basic fact that the young saplings would one day become specimens. Specimen trees need adequate space and light to survive.
After nearly five decades, Oregon native Douglas fir trees were encroaching on the canopy of state trees, and in need of significant thinning.
As the grove nears its 50th birthday, it is time for the association to lend its considerable expertise to this forgotten treasure.
Recently, Oregon Travel Experience (OTE), which manages the state’s rest areas, assumed management of this site. They brought in an OSU graduate student and certified arborist to to perform an assessment of the grove. The results were sobering. Some 26 trees were classified as “near death” or flagged by arborists as being in very poor health. Due to storm damage to certain trees, New Hampshire and Massachusetts are no longer represented, and there’s nothing left of the Arkansas pine but a sawed-off stump.
A restoration plan for saving the grove is currently being implemented. This past fall, 40 encroaching Douglas firs were removed. While approximately 600 larger Douglas fir trees will remain in the meadows near the grove, the restoration of the site will depend on proper tree management if it is to have a lasting impact for future generations, especially our children wishing to learn about Oregon history.
In November, three tree care companies (Bartlett Tree Experts, Treecology, and General Tree Service) removed the specimen trees that were beyond saving and pruned the rest.
On February 11, 27 new state trees will be planted. Still to come are efforts to install new pathways and interpretive signs throughout the grove. OTE is looking for donations, sponsorships and in-kind help. For details, contact Annie Van Domitz at 503-373-0864 or email@example.com.
I hope that Oregon’s elite nursery growers will answer the call, just as we did a half century ago.
A Valentine’s Day opportunity
The one thing I continue to be amazed about is the ever-changing nature of gardens. So many opportunities in our state exist to get out and experience the stunning array of plants and trees. It is a goal of mine to get my family out, away from iPhones, Netflix and the normal pattern of our daily lives and see the wonders that are just outside our door.
The growers that make up the association have made a significant contribution to our state’s beauty and for that I am grateful.