More about the Demo Garden

There are a number of documents that provide more details about our demonstration garden, ranging from history, to policies, to production records. There is written orientation to the garden detailing what is expected of volunteers and how they can best help. Follow these links to further information and downloadable files.

Since 2008 the Multnomah County Chapter of the Oregon Master Gardeners have had a demonstration garden at the Green Thumb site in SE Portland. We have two areas there. Our original garden is at 6801 SE 60th Avenue, between Duke and Flavel, across from Brentwood Park. Last year, in 2017, we added an annex to the garden. Our newer garden, about four times the size of the original, is at 6640 SE 57th Avenue. The two gardens are an short walk from one another in the same 12 acre site. 

So What is a Demonstration Garden?

There are many demonstration gardens in the United States, even quite a few in Portland. It might be better to ask, “What is the Multnomah Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden?

The more formal answer is to quote from our Mission Statement: The Multnomah Chapter of Master Gardeners will design, develop and maintain a community teaching garden showcasing edible and native plants using a variety of sustainable gardening techniques and will involve the community in all phases of the garden.

Another approach is to describe what we do:

  1. We grow plants, both edible and not.
  2. We teach other people how to grow plants.
  3. We experiment with gardening techniques.
  4. We keep accurate records of what we do.
  5. We donate all the food we grow to folks that need it .

What goes on, you ask?

Each year in the fall we begin planning for the next year.  First we make a general determination of what type of plants will be grown in a particular bed using crop rotation planning. Individual gardeners then offer to take on a particular bed for the following year. If you’ve been wanting to try growing Alliums (onions, garlic, chives, etc.) you might take on the bed planned for that crop. The gardener would decide which specific varieties are to be grown, and based on the bed size, how many of each they will grow. They will prepare a drawing of the bed, showing where the various plants will go, and then establish a timeline when various tasks will need to be done. All this information goes into the “Bed Book” for the next year so that any other gardener can see it.

The great thing about the Demonstration Garden is that the lead gardener for a bed does not have to do all those tasks themselves. We prepare task lists for each work day, and the volunteers who arrive choose items from the task list to do that morning. If the Allium bed needs red onion starts planted, the volunteer can consult the Bed Book to see where they should go, and put them in the ground. A task for the previous week might have asked someone to purchase the needed starts. A gardener who agrees to design a particular bed is expected to show up at the garden fairly regularly in case there are questions about the design, or to decide what to do if certain seeds don’t germinate.

Throughout the year, volunteer Master Gardeners prepare the soil, set up trellises, plant, water, thin, weed, and eventually harvest a wide range of vegetables, as well as caring for a variety of perennials, many native to the Willamette Valley. A volunteer growing -say- strawberries at home for the first time might notice that the strawberries at the demo garden are being fertilized. They can check the task list to see what kind of fertilizer is required, and how much. They might just go home later and feed their own strawberries!

The careful records we keep, including just how many pounds of a certain variety of carrots were harvested starting from a 10’ row of seeds. We know how long it took from planting to harvest. We know which varieties of lettuce tend to bolt. We know that grafted tomatoes produce much more heavily than the same variety on its normal rootstock (we also know that grafted tomato starts are expensive!)

Finally, in late October or early November, we put the garden to bed for the winter and begin planning for spring. Hopefully we have gained a few more converts to the pleasures of gardening with knowledgeable friends.