Hillside gardens are a true local treasure
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Have you ever heard people raving about a fabulous garden they have visited in Victoria or Gloucestershire or Delaware or North Carolina? It is always located in some exotic place and is SOOO beautiful.
In Wenatchee, we have a publicly owned garden that people rave about. I have met people who have traveled from Germany just to see Ohme Gardens. This place is so special that not only are visitors awed, pictures of its special areas have been featured in dozens of articles and garden magazines for decades.
Yet, very few people in the greater Wenatchee area have visited the gardens to appreciate a truly unique garden. This is not a garden that is going to bury you in bosomy blossoms and dozens of almost-trite circular rose gardens or cute sculptured hedges. Best of all, it is a garden for entire families because there are places to go and things to see for every age group. Because it is so scenic, the gardens are one of the most popular places for weddings in this area.
If you live in North Central Washington and have looked around at the bony, that is rocky, dry landscape, you cannot help but be awed by what Herman and Ruth Ohme built on a rocky outcrop. Drive up Highway 97A from the Odabashian Bridge to Entiat to get an idea of what the landscape of that hill looked like in 1929. More than 80 years later, the gardens are a microcosm of an Alpine forest. The mature fir and spruce trees create shade, quiet and bird habitat.
Mike Short, the garden administrator, has compiled an interesting book of photos that illustrate the change from rock pile to lush lawns, shady nooks, hidden benches, waterfalls and quiet pools.
In early spring, the gardens are filled with colorful flowers, and Mike has worked hard to plant additional blooming plants in sunny areas because people just expect flowers in a garden and —thank you very much — complain when their pre-determined assessment of “garden” is not realized.
Walk the gardens up and down and all around. Everywhere you look are hidden plants, terrific rock gardens, wide vistas and sun-dappled pools.
Because of a generous grant from the Downtown Lions and the Ohme Gardens Friends’ Society, the gardens for the first time are handicap accessible in the main area of the lower lawn. This is where the summer concert series on Friday nights in July and early August are held. Concertgoers can unwind by strolling the trails, looking at wild flowers, appreciating the gnarled shape of the 82-year old trees and then settling down to appreciate music presented by talented performers.
Even on our hottest days, the shady gardens are 10-15 degrees cooler, and it is so pleasant to appreciate the gardens in the evening, listening to the bird song and watching the shadows.
If you are looking for landscaping inspirations, go to the gardens and walk around to admire the various ground covers. The thyme, which is blooming now, is a plant developed over the years at the gardens. It is called Ohme Gardens Thyme and is its own species. It is sold at the gardens, as well as around the country.
Because the pools are in shady locations, Mike Short has nurtured a number of types of shade-loving ferns and hostas in rings at the edges of the pools. In the dryer, sunnier areas, a plant that is endemic to the Wenatchee mountains blooms in May. Tweedy’s Lewisia produces large, cream-colored flowers and is worth a spring visit.
Literally, more than 100 types of blooming plants create color during the seasons, but it is the trees that create the special atmosphere. Fifty-two stone benches are snugged among the trees and placed along the paths. Bring a book so you have an excuse to stop, sit on a bench and admire the colors and shapes of the various evergreens.
The wonder of this garden is that it is a self-supporting park. Chelan County owns the land, but expects gate receipts and special events to cover all the park’s costs. Once you visit, you will want to buy a season’s pass, which is good for a calendar year, and become a regular visitor to the best garden in Wenatchee.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears regularly in the Home, Garden section. Bonnie Orr is one of five columnists featured. She is president of the Ohme Gardens Friends’ Society and has volunteered at the gardens for 13 years.
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