Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Rogerson Clematis Garden, who knew?

Even though the Portland area does not have an official botanical garden of the sort cities like Bellevue, Denver, Albuquerque or Santa Barbara do (just to name a few), we do have several smaller gardens like the Leach, Elk Rock at Bishops Close, Lan Su and the Japanese Garden. I've enjoyed visiting these gardens over the years and recently added a new one to the list, the Rogerson Clematis Garden.

Why did it take me so long to visit? Well, I could say it's because I wasn't sure exactly where the garden was located (turns out it's just a quick half hour drive from my house) but honestly that's never stopped me before (Google anyone?) why? I guess because I sort of subconsciously thought it might be boring. A whole garden of Clematis? Yawn...

But it's not like that! Sure there are a lot of Clematis, but it's not just trellis after trellis, there are a lot of other plants too!

So what finally got me out there? A warm email from the garden staff saying they'd love to host a visit, how nice was that? Certainly made me feel special. As it turned out I received the deluxe treatment (toured through the garden with curator Linda Buetler) but if you visit on Wednesday or Friday from 10-2 or on the 4th Saturday of the month there are trained docents and volunteers on hand to answer your questions too...

Linda was an amazing guide, a wealth of knowledge on the history of the Rogerson Clematis Collection, the garden, and of course Clematis in fact she wrote the book! (The Plant Lover's Guide to Clematis, from Timber Press). The garden itself surrounds the original Luscher farmhouse...

When you visit, this is the sign you'll want to look for, there isn't one for the garden itself.

The home, and farm, have an interesting history, and in fact Rudy Luscher would have been a hero of the modern-day "Stop Demolishing Portland" movement. In the early 1990's he sold the farm to City of Lake Oswego (for a song) so that it would be preserved, not torn down and turned into just another housing development. Currently 110 acres here are City owned and part of the Parks & Rec system, this includes an 11 acre CSA on the property (47th Ave Farm), 200 plots for Community Gardens and of course the Rogerson Clematis Garden — which moved here in 2005.

The man behind the collection, Brewster Rogerson, started collecting in 1971, with just 4 Clematis (these things always start off so innocently). An English professor at Kansas State University he was frustrated with the lack of information (and plants) available and begun to contact breeders around the world. You can imagine where this led...

In 1980 he retired to Oregon (USDA Zone 8!) and became active in the local horticulture community. As time passed, and Brewster grew older, it became clear there needed to be a permanent home for his collection and after many desperate meetings the possibility of Luscher Farm was finally raised (thanks Mike Darcy) and the City of Lake O was very welcoming. The rest, as they say, is history. Or at least that's what I'm saying. For those involved there was still a lot of work to be done.

The City had three requirements for the garden:

1. A heirloom rose garden was to be planted around the house (the garden designers took it one step further and researched the plants which would have been available in the 30's and 40's, and planted a palette made-up exclusively of plants that could have been grown here at that time).
2. The garden needed to meet Backyard Habitat Certification standards (the entire farm is an organic facility).
3. An orchard in decline surrounded the farmhouse — the City wanted a new orchard planted in its place.

Naturally this 100-year-old copper beech tree was a keeper...

Since the garden proper contains older types of Clematis there needed to be a separate place to plant the newer ones, introductions post WWII...enter the "modern garden"...

This is more what I thought the entire garden would be like — but since it isn't — this is a nice counterpoint.

During my visit Linda frequently repeated the saying "feet in the shade, head in the sun" when talking about preferred siting for many of the plants. These strawberries planted along the fence fulfill both the requirement for shade, as well as giving the docents something tasty to snack on.

What's that you say? Names?

You want me to tell you what these beauties are called?

Sorry Charlie. It was all I could do to keep up with the interesting things Linda was telling me while snapping photos. I wasn't able to get all the names I should have...just enjoy the beauty! (and visit if you're in the area).

Back over in the garden proper...isn't this greenhouse fab? It was built via a fundraiser with matching funds from an anonymous donor. I want to be that person someday, the one who sees a worthy cause and can write the check to make sure it happens.

Over yonder there is a former "Street of Dreams" development. Big, expensive houses. Something that won't happen on this land!

Addressing my initial concern of what I'd see here at the garden. The Clematis aren't just growing on trellis after trellis, they're growing through, on, up and over other plants too...

Kind of a contained chaos approach, which I loved. That orchard I mentioned, it provides structure and support for many of the climbers.

And there are a few tasteful cages helping to keep things contained.

When I received the initial invite to visit, I was concerned there wouldn't be anything in bloom this time of the year (I visited on September 8th). Clearly I had nothing to worry about...

The garden is laid out with "special areas of focus" - a map and more info on those areas are available here.

As you can see it's not just Clematis!

I was a little surprised to see so many voluptuous Hibiscus in the garden, but I shouldn't have been. After all, thanks to the magic of social media, I knew Linda is tight with Bruce Bailey of Moses Lake, WA (Heavy Petal Nursery). Hardy Hibiscus are somewhat of  passion for him (read a nice story about that here) and of course several of these beauties found their way into this garden. H. 'Eruption'...

Hibiscus 'Heartthrob'

Euonymus carnosus

Fabulous seed pods on a bloomed out Clematis. Doesn't it look like they could just take off spinning through the air?

(yes...I did manage to get a few names after all) Clematis 'Arabella'

Clematis cirrhosa var purpurascens 'Lansdowne Gem'

Clematis cirrhosa var. purpurascens 'Freckles'. If I remember correctly the one above, 'Lansdowne Gem', comes from 'Freckles' bred until the spots were so close together the effect was almost a solid.

Now we're in the greenhouse, which is open Fridays 10am to 2pm and the 4th Saturday 10am to 1pm, and you can buy plants! This Clematis 'Bells of Emei Shan' caught my eye. The foliage is fabulous...

And the flowers quite lovely (yes, I am moderately obsessed and hope to acquire this one soon).

But honestly, this Clematis florida var. sieboldiana (which you saw in my Bloomday post back on the 15th) stole the show ...

I still can't believe it's mine!

With one final image (Clematis 'Arctic Queen' — also mine) this visit is complete. I'll end with a huge thank you to the garden staff and Linda for a wonderful visit, and this bit from their website: "With over 1600 individual clematis representing over 700 taxa, that is, distinct species or cultivated varieties (cultivars), the Rogerson Clematis Garden contains the most comprehensive collection of clematis within a public garden in North America." Right here in the Portland area!!! Do yourself a favor and visit...

All material © 2009-2016 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. Even if the flowers weren't so beautiful, clematis would worth growing for the seedheads alone. I've been tempted to try growing one as a groundcover or up through a shrub but the plants' water needs are a concern.

    1. I suppose that's true...but doesn't Hoov grow a few?

  2. So many clematis blooming this time of year. Who knew? Love the two that came home with you!

    1. Seemingly everyone but me! Do you have any Peter?

  3. We were in Lake Oswego on our recent visit to the PDX area, so sorry we didn't know about this place! If we ever get back, it will be at the top of the list to visit. Thanks for the informative post.

  4. That's a neat garden and a great resource. So many Clematis seedheads are as nice as the flowers that they really extend the seasonal interest.

    1. So true. I've found them floating around my garden when doing spring clean up. They look so delicate but they're tough! (the seed heads I mean)

  5. Gorgeous. I need to go! I'm ashamed I have not. Wanna go again? Thanks for the tour!

    1. I do wanna go again. I need that 'Bells of Emei Shan'!

  6. thank you. when i get to PDX area this is on my list. clematis are not just for spring. i have two varieties still in bloom today.

    1. So you're versed in the ways of the Clematis? What took me so long?

  7. I remember being surprised to see how well some more common Clematis did in the desert heat of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The ones in the nursery for the palace project were blooming quite well in the 3 story lath house, and the 120°F heat as early as May did not phase them.

  8. I just added two more Clematis last year and am looking forward to next year when they should start putting on a show. Clematis breeder R. Evison from Guernsey spoke to our Hardy Plant Soc. and got us hooked on them. Love the green and white one you got.

    1. I have a feeling they could quickly become addictive. I must be careful!

    2. Dr. Mary Toomey, author of 'An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Clematis,' once wrote, "growing and collecting clematis can easily become a happy and healthy obsession." So true.

  9. Wow!! I had no idea there were so many different clematis. I'm in Michigan and we seem to have purple or white :)

  10. It is wonderful and gratifying to read all the responses to your lovely blog about our gardens at the Rogerson Clematia Collection. Thank you from a volunteer who has the great honor and pleasure to be able to work there.

  11. The Clems are beginning to get a grip on my heart too. In fact, one is twining its way up the Pittosporum I got from you at the last swap.

  12. Thanks for the tour! For as much as I like Clematis, it's quite ridiculous to admit that I haven't visited this garden yet. One of these days... My only fear is that it would make me go a little crazy...


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