Are you ready for a long story? You’re not? Alright, here’s the short form. The idea for an annex to the current Demonstration Garden started in the spring of 2015 when the Demo Garden group learned that Portland Public Schools was suggesting a rent increase for Greenhouse 5. For almost ten years, PSU had been paying $1 for use of the greenhouse, plus $1500 for utilities each year. For about five years, the Master Gardeners had been sub-leasing about a third of the greenhouse for $500 each year. PPS suggested a new rent of $11,500. Our third of that seemed like quite a bit for growing vegies that we give away.

Along with moaning and groaning, we began considering other places where we might garden, on the assumption at that time that we would have to move. Trimming the story a bit, we were eventually pointed to about an acre of weedy field at the far north end of the Green Thumb area. One of its appealing features was that it was on Portland Parks and Recreation land, not Portland Public Schools. Because PPS has students on site, they strongly discourage “strangers” on the property, and this prevented us from offering classes. PP&R, on the other hand, strongly encouraged classes for the public.

After some internal discussion, we asked for that piece of property for a garden. Silly us! We thought PP&R would say to themselves, “Would we rather have a weedy field or a beautiful garden at no cost to us?” and give us the land. I suppose you could say that they did, but only after 18 months of application, re-application, schedules, drawings, budget estimates, proof of insurance, convincing them that workers compensation isn’t needed for volunteers. You get the picture.

One interesting part of this process took quite a while. Back in the last millennium, all of the 12+ acres called Green Thumb belonged to Portland Public Schools. In 2000, PPS sold more than half of the land to PP&R, however PP&R never completed the transaction with the various city agencies that track who owns what. (Consider trying that on your own house!) Bottom line, there was no record that PP&R actually owned the land, even though everyone agreed they did. After much digging, we came up with a survey that had been done several months prior to the sale of the land, showing the proposed new boundaries. This was enough that PP&R felt they could go ahead with our request.  In March, 2017 we were granted an NPUP - Non-Parks Use Permit - to develop a garden in place of that field of weeds.

While all this was going on, the Demo Garden crew continued to grow vegies at our usual spot and donate them to various food banks. Also during this time PSU and PPS were negotiating like crazy back and forth over the rent for greenhouse 5, and who would come up with the money. To our surprise, the end answer of who would pay turned out to be… not us! After all that, we found ourselves with our existing gardens and greenhouse space available at no charge. Why give that up? We had noticed a slight uptick in the number of volunteers at the demo garden, and began to consider (daydream?) that perhaps we could attract enough gardeners to maintain the original garden as well as the new area.

We still don’t know if we’ll be able to maintain both areas, but it is our aim to do so. Under the circumstances, it seemed inappropriate to refer to our weedy field as “the new garden”, and it became known as the Annex. So far we have attracted enough people to move the construction work along without hurting our efforts and the original garden, and we’ve attracted a group of new gardeners interested in non-vegie gardening that are making plans for over half of the space at the Annex. We are discussing ways to improve the efficiency of the work at both gardens, and that, too, seems appropriate for a demonstration garden. This winter should see the main paths in place, and many of the beds constructed and planted.

Our future plans call for a new, large greenhouse at the annex. Once that is in place, we’ll be able to judge better whether this really is the Annex, or a new garden of its own.

To seethe latest developments check out our Annex News.