Written by volunteer Sarah Perrine
Meet the Oregon Garden’s Plant … what?
“Just call me a plant nerd!” long-time volunteer Barbara Slimak laughs. “I love being around them! I love to collect them and study them. I also love dividing, propagating, pruning and potting them! What I love most about plants though,” she continues, “is all their wonderful fragrances! When I close my eyes on some of Oregon’s spring days, it’s easy to pretend I live in Paradise!”
“Did you know that the fragrance from one single flower can evoke all kinds of memories for different people? One of the things that I enjoyed as a walking tour guide was asking people to describe the memories that came to mind as different fragrances filled the air.”
One our most steadfast and diverse volunteers, Barbara has committed her heart, soul and green thumb to the Oregon Garden since 1997. Using a scale model as a prop, she inspired vital support for the controversial project at supermarkets and shopping centers throughout the Willamette Valley.
No parking lot or well-marked entrance existed in the early days of the Garden’s construction. As a result, curious first-time visitors often got stuck in the mud, leaving deep ruts behind. If they spotted Barbara working in the Pavilion (formerly a horse barn), they would stop to ask, “Where’s the garden?”
“So I would walk them around, point to some mud and rocks, and say, ‘Some day lily ponds will flourish there!’ Or I’d point to a pile of PVC pipes, telling them to visualize hundreds of conifers of every shape and size flourishing on that spot. We would charge $1.00 for those tours!” she recalls.
With more modesty than fanfare, Barbara’s horticultural skills and interests have touched nearly every aspect of the Oregon Garden for nearly 20 years. Before leashed dogs were allowed on the premises, her inner animal-lover became a dog-sitter for pet owners unaware of the rules. Wearing another hat, as a member of the Plant Information team (PIT) and horticultural expert, Barbara has answered hundreds of visitor questions, enhancing their Garden visit to the max. But would they recognize the same person transporting bags and bags of plastic greenhouse refuse to an agricultural recycling center, driving her own truck?
Of all her Garden activities, few are as close to Barbara’s heart as eight thick scrapbooks bulging with news clippings, letters and photographs — possibly one of the most complete histories of the Oregon Garden ever assembled. She’s determined to finishs this labor of love. Some day.
But not yet, because these days Barbara spends most of her time in the greenhouse, handling clippings of a different sort. Working under the direction of Ty Boland and Sarah Wilmes, she’s part of a team that coaxes thousands of seeds and cuttings to full exhibit perfection. In 2013 they raised more than 60,000 annuals and perennials on site! In fact, they’ve gotten so good at what they do that for the first time the Garden had no need to purchase additional inventory for its displays!
If you happen to see Barbara on your next visit, be sure to thank her for all her contributions. But keep it brief…she probably won’t have time to take much of a break!