Towards a New Home

by Linda Beutler

The current chapter in the search for a permanent home for the Rogerson Clematis Collection began at a Pacific Northwest Clematis Society board of directors meeting on November 1, 2004. It was my first meeting as presiding officer, and the news I had to impart to my fellow officers and directors was not good. As a member of the loosely affiliated team of concerned horticultural citizens working on the problem of housing the collection, I felt it was my burden to let PNCS know that the supposed relocation of Brewster’s vines to the former site of the Portland Public Schools’ defunct Green Thumb program was dead in the water. Belly up. Toast.

The Portland Parks department had no money by buy the schools’ interest in the 11 acre site, however tempted they were by the possibility of ultimately creating a center for urban horticulture. The school district was scraping for money, and the recent sale of the old Washington High school buildings meant that their offices house there would be moved to Green Thumb. No room at the inn (a recurring theme in earlier installments of this saga, see May/June 2003 issue of ) was the message everywhere.

So a glum cadre of PNCS board members sat around, wringing hands and tearing hair. It seemed Brewster’s threatened dissolution of his plants would be inevitable. Our meeting was nearly completed when director Mike Darcy said that with nothing to lose, why not contact the City of Lake Oswego? In 2003-2004 Mike had occasion to work closely with their park and recreation department creating a pocket park near his house. He found them friendly, easy to work with, generous, and generally positive about citizen suggestions. Mike felt he knew one of their project managers well enough to at least talk, over coffee, about the possibility of creating a clematis garden somewhere in Lake Oswego.

Mike Darcy and Mike Snyder met with Jerry Knipple to sound him out. Was the proposal of relocating 900 clematis too daunting? The Mikes kept tentatively asking questions, and Jerry kept responding with understanding nods. In typically affable fashion, Jerry said that this was just the sort of project that Lake Oswego would like to explore, and the Luscher Farm acreage jumped to mind as an ideal location. He offered to take the idea to Kim Gilmer, LO Parks and Recreation Director, and set up a meeting with her. Mike called to let me know that Lake Oswego had not said “no,” and that a higher level meeting would follow. Soon.

Our heads were swimming… in just two meetings we were at the top of the chain of command, instead of slogging against the tide of two behemoth bureaucracies, with the constant feeling that we weren’t quite talking to the right people, and that the vision and energy of interested citizens was not heard. We were so used to approaching various entities with hat in hand, “Won’t you please help us?”, like those big-eyed children seen in cheap art prints, that for a city department to be (their word) that we had given them the opportunity to house the collection, well… our heads are still swimming.

Not more than two weeks later the Mikes, accompanied by Nancy Gronowski, a planner for Portland Parks who had been on the clematis relocation team from the beginning and who lives in Lake Oswego, met with Kim. More smiles, more nodding, and clearly a welcoming attitude: in just two meetings we were nearly at “yes.” Kim suggested that a meeting of all concerned persons begin a serious planning process, which would ultimately end with the presentation of a proposal to the Lake Oswego City Council in January. January 2005!!! These meetings, called charettes, involved myself, Brewster Rogerson, the Mikes, Nancy, and others, like Lucy Hardiman and John Long, who have had a long history of interest in Brewster, his collection, and its ultimate safe landing in a location where there would be a garden, a greenhouse for propagation, and most importantly, public access. The Friends of the Rogerson Clematis Collection, the new non-profit organization charged with responsibility for the clematis once a home was found, was poised with thumbs on champagne corks.

On January 17, 2005, the city council of Lake Oswego voted yes. Whoops of joy broke the stillness of a Lake Oswego morning. Our small, giddy band of otherwise sensible adults was seen dancing on the corner of Fourth and A. Later that day I found myself hugging Karen Davis, the head gardener at Luscher Farm, who makes every visitor feel so welcome there, and has been 100% supportive of the collection’s arrival. But that was only the end of the first part of the beginning.

What Lake Oswego said “yes” to was the lease of two acres of land and free access to their well water, on a site adjacent to the Luscher Farm house and a portion of the uncultivated field across the driveway. There was a minor setback when a wetlands designation changed the exact boundaries of the two acres, but the will to cooperate was so strong on both sides, that an April meeting at the farm with their garden staff, Kim and the FRCC planning group quickly agreed on where the greenhouse should go, and that FRCC would restore the antique apple orchard in exchange for being able to plant clematis in and around it.

As spring progresses, many things are happening simultaneously, all of which will pave the way for the easy transition of Brewster’s clematis. The following people have all to be involved in the following ways, and are to be thanked profusely for all they do to make a dream come true: Rick Meigs (FRCC director) has negotiated the legal agreement with Lake Oswego; Lucy Hardiman, Rick Meigs and Howard Geist (all FRCC directors or officers) are the financial team, who wrote the successful HPSO grant proposal and also liased with an anonymous donor who issued challenge grants to raise money for the greenhouse; Bob Gutmann, John Long, Jim Haase, and Maurice Horn are the greenhouse planning/construction team, with Jim Haase as project manager; Sharon Kaito is the volunteer coordinator, recruiting and training volunteers, and making sure everyone has the opportunity to work with Brewster on various tasks at the current location site as plants are prepared for their move. Sharon is designing a volunteer program from scratch. She is assisted in this by John Long, Karen Suher, Cheryl Tutka, Doris Starrett, Rick Meigs and myself. Jerry Grossnickle has served as FRCC’s attorney, assisting Sally Geist (FRCC President) with the non-profit status request, Brewster with his deed of gift contract, and over-seeing FRCC’s interests in the agreement with Lake Oswego. Brewster and all of the collection’s volunteers have focused their efforts on propagating the rarest plants this spring, and housing the cuttings for us are Sally Geist and June Collins, both of whom have graciously curtailed their own propagation projects to make their greenhouses available to the collection’s babies. The design team for the new garden is Nancy Gronowski, Lucy Hardiman and Teresa Dennis, assisted by me for specific clematis placement advice. Behind all of this is Brewster Rogerson, working with us to identify which plants will be moved first into a historic garden for the 100 year old house, and preparing the rest of the plants for their journey from North Plains to Lake Oswego.

All of the FRCC board members were challenged to raise $5000 which was matched by one of the challenge grants. They have made personal donations, hosted fund-raisers, made presentations at garden clubs, and sold plants at Plant Nerd Night in March. FRCC members met their own $5000 challenge by donating money directly, and selling books and plants. PNCS donated a substantial sum ear-marked for greenhouse construction. Even spouses were pressed to contribute: Larry Beutler, frequent cover artist for the HPSO Bulletin, donated the design of the FRCC logo.

A big thanks to everyone doing everything to bring the collection to its new life as a public garden and educational resource.

If all of this activity makes you breathless, just wait. We haven’t even moved any plants yet! Once all contracts are signed, derelict trees near the farmhouse can be removed and replaced, beds around the house enlarged and amended, and then planting of clematis in the historic garden can begin. At the same time the site of the greenhouse will be prepared, and construction will begin. The driveway into Luscher Farm will be widened by FRCC. Plumbing and wiring subcontractors will be hired to equip the greenhouse with heat, light and water. By September, our goal is to have all of the clematis moved to the site, even if some of the plants may have to remain in the new greenhouse until their specific planting beds are ready. Volunteers will be trained at on-going sessions, then individuals will be able to set their own schedules to work at the collection gardening, propagating, selling plants, and leading tours.

And the fund-raising will never end. It is Brewster’s request that FRCC hire a curator with all speed, thus an endowment must be started to provide a stable funding source for the salary. The money has to come first. The collection has had a strong guiding hand in the person of its founder, and FRCC is challenged once again, this time to find a person with Brewster’s infectious enthusiasm and boundless quest for knowledge of the genus clematis.

Mike Darcy and I still shake our heads in amazement. On November 1, 2004, there was no hope for a home for the Rogerson Clematis Collection. By December 15, 2004 there was a tentative light at the end of a tunnel, and by the end of January, 2005 there was a message of welcome loud and clear from the Lake Oswego City Council. By November 1, 2005, all of the Rogerson clematis were at Luscher Farm, under the care of their founder, a host of volunteers, and the Friends of the Rogerson Clematis Collection. Thank you, Lake Oswego!