Earlier this month we headed to Reedsport to experience something new, the O.H. Hinsdale Rhododendron Garden. Located 3 miles east of Reedsport on Highway 38, the garden is currently being restored by a joint partnership between the BLM and the “Friends of Hinsdale Garden.” This hidden treasure was a labor of love for one man, O. Howard Hinsdale. Saved from demolition in the late 1990s, over 700 of the original plants in this garden have since been identified. And, while the garden is beautiful, it is even more extraordinary within the context of its history…
The woodland garden is located on Spruce Island Reach nestled between the Umpqua River and Highway 38. Mr. Hinsdale’s parents owned this property since as early as 1912, and in the 1940s when his mother went to live in Portland, he began to remodel the house and landscape the gardens.
Hinsdale was a very successful business man, who owned or was involved with many local businesses, including the local sand and gravel company. Since much of the land around the house was low lying and swampy, he used a dredge to pump sand and gravel into the garden area from the Umpqua River. In all, about 23,000 cubic yards of material was used to build up the elevation of the eastern end of the main property. Ridges and valleys were formed so that the gardens would display well from the house and driveway. The plantings on the eastern side of the property were arranged so that they reflected into the waterway Hinsdale had created between the riverbank and Highway 38.
In 1951 Hinsdale began landscaping the 8 acre garden. One of his workers, Galen Baxer, remembers that Mr. Hinsdale secured some of his mature plants by touring through the more affluent areas of Portland. When he found a plant he wanted — a rhododendron, a camellia, a magnolia — he would knock on the front door of the house and proceed to offer the owner cash for the plant. He dealt in sums of money that made it hard for people to refuse. When the negotiations were complete, his crew would “lift” the plant, secure it on a large flatbed truck, and then transport it back to the garden. Other plants were purchased in England and barged to the garden via the Panama Canal. Likewise the large trees that are dispersed throughout the garden were brought in as already mature specimens. Because Hinsdale purchased already mature plants, two of them are very old (R. ‘Cynthia’ and R. Fortunei). Hinsdale’s records list their ages as dating back to around 1890 and 1895.
By the mid-1960s Mr. Hinsdale and his wife separated, and he eventually moved to the Lake Oswego area where he created a new garden overlooking the Willamette River. When he passed away in 1987 ownership of the land around Spruce Reach Island eventually transferred to his son, Oscar Howard Hinsdale Jr., who sold the property to the BLM in 1994.
Much of Hinsdale’s property became the Dean Creek Elk Viewing area. And the BLM intended to demolish the old house and the rhododendron garden. When members of the community became concerned, the “Friends of the Hinsdale Garden” was created and has been working with the BLM to preserve the gardens.
For almost a half a century the gardens went untended. Since then, it has been a labor of love for many people to clear the land and identify the plants using Mr. Hinsdale’s meticulous records. When we visited, we were handed an 11×17 sheet of paper with all the plants identified in small type on both sides. We also learned that the house is still slated for demolition. From the outside it looks to be in very sad shape, and barn swallows and bats now call it home.
When you go, park at the Dean Creek Elk Viewing area and mini buses will transport you to the garden. We found that the buses ran regularly with very short wait times.
Finally, this is a great video by Travel Oregon about the garden and Mr. Hinsdale, it is how I first learned about this beautiful garden:
For more information I found these resources helpful:
Spruce Reach Island: Oregon Coast’s Secret Rhododendron Garden: The Hinsdale Estate, Dean Creek, Near Reedsport: Part I http://www.blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/files/brochures/Part_1.pdf
Spruce Reach Island: Oregon Coast’s Secret Rhododendron Garden: The Hinsdale Estate, Dean Creek, Near Reedsport: Part II http://www.blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/files/brochures/Part_2.pdf
UPDATE: According to their website, open days in 2020 are:
April 11, April 25, and May 9. 10 AM to 2 PM.