Someone once said, “A garden is like a friend you can visit anytime.” In the Mid-Willamette Valley, you’ll find an abundance of garden friends to choose from. From hardy hostas to dazzling dahlias, many local growers not only raise hundreds of varieties of plants but have also created awe-inspiring display gardens that draw visitors from far and wide. As summer morphs into fall, be sure to visit these garden gems in the Salem area:
Dancing Oaks Nursery & Gardens
Self-identified "plant addicts" Fred Weisensee and Leonard Foltz started Dancing Oaks Nursery in 1995. Nestled in the foothills of the Coast Range outside of Monmouth, the nursery grows unusual trees, shrubs and perennials garnered from all over the world. The nursery features five large greenhouses that are "overflowing with gems for every garden," says Leonard. It’s embedded in an established display garden designed to provide inspiration for gardeners
The garden displays hundreds — if not thousands — of plant varieties (Leonard admits they have lost count) and features some rare beauties, including the Impatiens tinctoria (Hardy Impatiens) from the upper elevation East African rain forests and the Elsholtzia stauntonii, or Chinese Mint Shrub, whose flower spikes bloom with brilliant red-violet florets in late summer and into fall.
In the heart of the garden sits a Pavillion building that houses the nursery office and includes a large covered patio, where visitors are welcome to spend some time. "Bring a lunch and plan to lounge on the covered patio or garden tables," says Leonard. When you visit, you may also catch a glimpse of Simba, Charlotte or Vladimir — the nursery’s three resident Maine Coon cats — napping or sunning themselves in the garden.
Dancing Oaks is open Tuesday through Sunday, March through October and by appointment. www.dancingoaks.com
Delbert Hunter Arboretum and Botanical Garden
The Delbert Hunter Arboretum is named in honor of a longtime Dallas resident who spearheaded an effort to restore the banks of Rickreall Creek. Hunter passed away in 2003 but his legacy remains in the Arboretum and garden that's situated along Rickreall Creek in the corner of Dallas City Park. The seven-acre property features a network of unpaved walking trails through different sections, including a riparian forest, seasonal wetland, Lewisia rock garden and rhododendron garden. Remaining in the arboretum is the last visible trace of an historic log flume — a water channel that was used to propel logs downhill towards the sawmill in the early days of the area’s logging industry.
"[The Arboretum] is a beautiful place to walk in a naturalistic setting and see Western Oregon native plants," says Nancy Heuler, president of the Friends of Delbert Hunter Arboretum and Botanical Garden, the group of volunteers who maintain the Arboretum and raises funds for its upkeep.
The Delbert Hunter Arboretum is open daily year-round, but Heuler encourages people who want to ask questions to visit on Tuesday mornings between 9 a.m. and noon, when volunteers are working in the gardens. www.delberthunterarboretum.org
In the heart of Salem sits Gaiety Hollow — a beautiful public garden and a unique piece of Salem's history. In the early 20th Century, Gaiety Hollow served as both the home garden and office of Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver — the first all-female landscape architect firm in the Pacific Northwest.
Less than half an acre in size, the garden is an "oasis of flowers within the urban fabric of Salem," notes Lindsey Kerr, Curator & Garden Manager with the Lord & Schryver Conservancy. It also serves as "a resource for garden design, plant display and education," she adds.
Gaiety Hollow is open to the public for both guided tours and exploring on your own on select days of the month, March through September. On guided tours, visitors "will discover the gardens and be introduced to the lives of Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver, their design principles and their contributions to landscape architecture and civic beautification in Salem," says Lindsey. www.lordandschryverconservancy.org
What initially began as a small home business has grown into one of the largest Dahlia nurseries and gardens in Oregon. "I was looking for something I could do at home when my kids were little," she says. Today, she grows 220 varieties of dahlias on two and a half acres of her family's 30-acre farm in Turner.
During bloom season, visitors are welcome to walk through the fields and enjoy the flowers or cut a bouquet for themselves. Sharon also sells tubers and plants at the farm and many cut flowers for weddings and events.
Sharon says she tries to be a full-service dahlia nursery and make it easy for people to grow them successfully. "My goal has always been to educate people on the growing and care of dahlias...If people can't understand how to grow something, they won't try. I do my best to help people enjoy dahlias."
Frey's Dahlias is open to visitors daily during bloom season, Mid-August through Mid-October. www.freysdahlias.com
Sebright Gardens is a locally-owned farm which specializes in growing and selling shade tolerant plants - namely hostas but also ferns and Epimediums (hardy, shade-loving plants endemic to China). “People are surprised when they come here for the first time,” says Kirk Hansen, who co-owns Sebright Gardens with Thomas Johnson. Kirk constantly hears people remark that they “had no idea the Garden offered so much.”
Sebright grows 1,000 different varieties of hostas; 500 of which are available for purchase in the retail shopping area. The Garden is also home to about 150 varieties of ferns and 115 types of Epimediums. Visitors are encouraged to meander the 4-acre display garden, relax in the gazebo, and take their time picking out their perfect plants.
“Our goal is for people to have a positive experience – not only during their visit but long afterwards,” says Kirk. “If customers are successful in growing the plants, then we’re successful.”
Sebright opens for the season each year at the beginning of April and remains open daily through the end of October. www.sebrightgardens.com