A Hidden Gem on the Oregon Coast

A slightly blurry phone picture of the sign on the gate leading to the public loop through the garden.
Secluded near the small town of Yachats, there is a garden that enjoys the benevolent climate of the Oregon Coast, mild even by the standards of the Pacific Northwest. It is a garden full of hidden treasures and magnificent plant specimens not commonly found in this part of the world. The garden is the creation of Jim and Janice Gerdemann, and it is now known as the Gerdemann Botanic Preserve. The following is a brief history of the garden, kindly provided by Kate Bryant:

"The Gerdemann Botanical Preserve

In 1981, Jim and Janice Gerdemann purchased an acre of property on the edge of the Siuslaw National Forest in Yachats. Thickly forested with spruce and hemlock, but on a sloped site adjacent to the ocean, it was the perfect place to test the hardiness of rare and unusual plants from all over the world.

For almost thirty years, Jim (a retired University of Illinois plant pathology professor) and Janice (a retired teacher) collected and planted unusual specimens — most of which they grew from seed -- on the wooded hillside with its myriad microclimates. Over the years, the site grew into a unique, 3.5-acre, richly-planted botanical preserve. The Gerdemann’s world travels, as well as Jim’s research into mycorrhizal fungi, informed their intense interest in growing seemingly challenging plants and helped them succeed with plants often deemed tender. Today, the Preserve contains over 1000 unusual plants, from southern hemisphere shrubs and trees to significant collections of magnolia, camellia, and rhododendron species and hybrids -- including Jim's hand-crossed tropical vireya rhododendrons, in a glasshouse -- all nestled amid a vibrant native coastal habitat.

In 2008, the property was purchased by Jerry and Kathleen Sand, who shepherded the garden with care for eight years. As of the summer of 2015, the property is under the care of Andreea Ghety. Plans are being developed to increase the garden’s accessibility to visitors; meantime, many beautiful plants can be enjoyed while wandering the public footpath leading from the road to the entrance to the Siuslaw National Forest."
- Kate Bryant
A map of the garden, filled with meticulous detail, hangs on the wall of  Andreea's house
In August, garden writer and all-around amazing person, Kate Bryant, gathered a group of plant-crazed individuals to help provide some maintenance for the garden. I was thrilled to join in on the fun. Not only did I get to see a garden I've wanted to visit for years, I actually got to work in it! A work party in a place like this is essentially an excuse to explore off the path and really delve into the treasures this garden has to offer. The weather was absolutely gorgeous. This was before our recent rains, when much of the Pacific Northwest was mired in a thick haze of smoke and the sun shown red over Portland. The air was marvelously cool and moist at the beach, the only haze a bit of oceanic humidity that promised the usual coastal fog come morning. The sky was actually blue instead of brown! I could breathe freely, I wasn't sweating from the heat, and I was in a garden that promised to surpass even my fantasies, surrounded by equally plant-obsessed individuals. I was positively giddy, nearly to the point of running around like a hyper-active dog kept in a kennel all day. So many distractions, so much to see! Ooh, what's that?

Tropaeolum speciosum mingles with a fuchsia (and just about everything else in the garden).
(Note: I've tried to keep the photos in this post smaller than usual to reduce scrolling, but you can see larger versions by clicking on a photo. Then you can also go through just the photos and skip my effusive prose.)
HOT pink new growth on a rhododendron.
Of course I did some actual work, too. Luckily, much of the work that needs to be done at the garden is pruning, my favorite! As is the case with many gardens created by true plant lovers, many areas of the garden have become overgrown and need some special attention to bring the exuberant plants back under control. One of my many desires is to see the rhododendron forests of the Himalayas and China, so I enjoyed walking under the canopy of rhododendrons that covers much of the garden. The Gerdemann Botanic Preserve is perhaps one of the best places to see the big-leaved rhododendrons of the subsections Falconera and Grandia in the United States. Even the Rhododendron Species Botanic Garden cannot claim as large of specimens of these impressive plants.
A big-leaved rhody rises from the surrounding canopy, with silver tomentum flashing in the sun.
Entire groves of big-leaved rhododendrons grace the garden with their lush foliage. The effect of walking through these stands of magnificent plants is magical, so much so that I didn't even lift my camera to attempt capturing their effect. I'm sure it would have proven beyond my photography skills, anyway. Regardless, I walked through these copses almost reverently, awed by the enchantment of this place, completely forgetting the camera hanging from my neck.
The dark upper surfaces of the drooping older leaves contrasts sharply with the brightly-colored new growth.
Thankfully, I wasn't entirely stupefied the whole time, or else I'd have little to show you. During more lucid moments, I recalled my camera and captured images of moss-covered branches,...
False lily-of-the-valley cavorts through the moss of this
...rich, cinnamon indumentum thickly coating the undersides of leaves,...
This lovely specimen was in clear view sitting on the deck, enjoying excellent food and even better company.
 ... smooth, crooked stems forming magical arches over the pathways,...
The bent, bare stems of rhododendrons provide magical arches and tunnels to walk through. You can almost imagine yourself trekking through a forest in the Himalayan foothills.
 ...huge, fuzzy seed capsules like little bananas,...
Bananas? No, these are rhododendron seed capsules. Ok, so they aren't quite as big as bananas, maybe only two or three inches long. Yeah, only...
 ...and even bigger foliage that challenged my ability to hold the camera back far enough to frame the entire leaf while keeping my other hand close enough to use for scale.
Why do they call them "big-leaved" rhododendrons, anyway? It's a mystery.
While some areas of the garden are quite dense and in obvious need of some drastic pruning and careful editing, there is a wealth of beautiful views and vignettes like the one below. Streaks of sunlight spear through gaps in the taller plants to strike upon beautiful tomentum.
The mild winters and cool summers, complete with almost daily coastal fog, results in vibrant, lush foliage.
Anyone who thinks rhododendrons have boring foliage really needs to visit this garden. This particular specimen shone almost silver in a patch of sunlight.
You may be thinking by now that this garden has little to offer unless one really loves rhododendrons. That couldn't be further from the truth. While rhododendrons make up a substantial portion of the garden, many are far from the standard, plain-leaved masses we see engulfing houses, and there is a wealth of other incredible plants to see.  
A view of the front garden from the second floor of the house. That palm is a Washingtonia. No need to settle for Trachycarpus in this mild garden.
A view of the Washingtonia from the ground, with a very happy fuchsia in front. I'm fairly certain the fuchsia is the same as the Fuchsia sp. [Yachats, Oregon] offered by The Desert Northwest
The large fruits of the fuchsia pictured above were the tastiest of the many I sampled.
Every garden has weeds, but not every garden has weeds as nice as Tropaeolum speciosum!
There's always an agave, or two. Gerdemann's has something for everyone.
Salvia patens blooms in a rich, true blue in the front garden.
Oh how I wish phormium were reliably hardy in my garden. The Oregon coast has such an enviable climate.
A personal highlight of my visit to Gerdemann Botanic Preserve was stumbling upon this magnificent Dicksonia antarctica, situated on a short side trail in a small, sunken dell. The trunk alone is just over 6 feet tall. I've been slightly obsessed with tree ferns from a young age. I've seen them in conservatories, but this was my first time seeing one growing outdoors. It was almost a spiritual experience, stopping me in my tracks for seconds of eternity, my jaw slack, while I marveled at the sight of sunlight filtering through the massive fronds.

Ahem... Yes, well, back to reality. See what I meant by effusive prose?

Another favorite in this garden is Crinodendron hookerianum, of which I saw at least three specimens. My moment of reverence at seeing 15-20' specimens of these alluring Chilean tree was cut short as I attempted rather fruitlessly to capture their glory on camera, my frustration growing after each click of the shutter. Balked in my efforts by incredibly dark green, glossy foliage in dappled sunlight, I made it my mission to try to take a decent picture of these plants.
A shaded specimen in the middle of the day, with blazing sun in the background.
Better luck at sunset? Perhaps. Still a bad angle.

Close-ups are easier, though they don't show full glory of these trees.
 A massive Sitka spruce trunk provides some background contrast to the dark, glossy foliage. Highlights of lichen and a few red, lantern-shaped flowers add still more definition.
This one peaks over the roof of the house, though not reaching the peak of the roof.
A shot at the specimen next to the house. The top disappears against the dark foliage of Sitka spruce.
Ah well, at least I can take a picture of a single flower. 
I'll leave off there for now. With almost 300 photos taken, it was a struggle just to winnow my selection down close to 100. I hope you're eager to see more of the Gerdemann Botanic Preserve, because I have more to show you!


  1. Wow, Evan...thank you! I've been hoping to see some photos from what sounds like an incredible weekend. So glad you got to go! Incredible rhododendron species, indeed. Just WOW!

    1. It was a fantastic weekend, and the timing was perfect. It got me away from the house when I was feeling a bit cooped up, and away from the worst of the smoke, too.

  2. What a cool place! I feel the same way about tree ferns; I am in awe whenever I see them growing lushly in gardens in places like San Francisco.

    1. Someday I want to retire on the Oregon coast so I can grow tree ferns. Sigh...

  3. Soaked up these photos but cewrtinly would not want to miss out on your effusive prose.

  4. "The large fruits of the fuchsia...were the tastiest..." ? Fuchsia has eatable fruit? I was trying to figure out what those things were; I wouldn't have guessed in a million years.
    A selfi with a rhodi - priceless. Such awesome leafs. I hope your dream of traveling to the Himalayans will come true.

    1. Yes, you can eat fuchsia berries! They don't have a lot of flavor, but are a fun bit of juicy sweetness.

  5. The gardens seem pretty amazing. I think that old plantsman gardens get a amazingly magical feel when overgrown. I really love seeing the massive Rhododendron canopies...very special indeed!

    1. I agree completely. I loved walking through the tunnels of crooked stems with foliage overhead.

  6. What a great opportunity, Evan! And thank you for disclosing that fuchsia berries are edible (not that any fuchsias are likely to survive in my current garden but I maintain an unrealistic hope that, someday, prevailing temperatures will become more reasonable - or that we'll move).

    1. You're welcome, Kris! I hope you get to grow fuchsias again someday. I'm planning on adding some to a moist area in my own garden for the first time. The deer fence has finally made such things possible.

  7. Eager to see more? Yes please. So glad you were both able to enjoy your visit, get some work done, and take hundreds of photos!

    1. Good! Because next time I'll show you some of the REALLY interesting plants! I haven't even covered most of those yet.

  8. Me too Evan! I love tree ferns and it's just not fair that we can't grow them here in the valley. From your gorgeous photo, that specimen at Gerdemann is TO. DIE. FOR. I wish my Tropaeolum speciosum was still alive. I'm still mourning its death.

    1. Retirement on the Oregon coast. That's my dream. Lol. Sorry about your Tropaeolum speciosum. :(

  9. Gorgeous Rhodies, and especially the tree fern. What a fun opportunity for you! I considered growing Honeyberries, which are developed fruits from Fuchsias, but didn't get a feeling that they could really hold a candle to Blueberries, so I haven't tried them.

    1. What I know of as honeyberries are a species of honeysuckle, Lonicera caerulea. I haven't tried those, but I can tell you that fuchsia berries do not hold a candle to blueberries. If you only have space for one, and want fruit instead of flowers, definitely choose the blueberries. ;)

  10. Thanks for sharing the images Evan. GBP appears to be a jewel. Your work will likely inspire road trips and support for to and for the GBP.

    1. I hope it does. It's a wonderful garden, and fairly unique in the PNW because of the climate. That reminds me I must get to work on the second installation. Thanks for reading.


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