Family Of Gardeners: Gardening On Oregon’s Columbia River Plateau

By Mary H. Dyer | April 2, 2020
by Mary H. Dyer
April 2, 2020

We all have a story and much of mine includes gardening. I come from a family of gardeners, so gardening is in my blood. Even with all its challenges at times, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Each new season brings with it a number of ups and downs, all worth it in the end, regardless of your regional zone. Here is a little info on how my history of gardening got started.

The Bond That Ties – Gardening with Family

My father’s family traveled to Oregon along the Oregon Trail. My grandfather was a teacher in the Willamette Valley, but a friend convinced him to try his hand at life “East of the Cascades.” With his small herd of cattle, he moved to the other side of the mountain and homesteaded property that eventually became a dryland wheat ranch in Eastern Oregon’s high-desert country. 

My mother’s family came later and settled near the John Day River, lured by the promise of a better life in the far west. Times were tough in Younce Holler, nestled into the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. Mom said that each child received one pair of shoes per year, purchased from a Sears catalog every fall. In early summer, she and her siblings wore socks outdoors for a couple of weeks until their feet were toughened, then barefoot it was until fall and time for new shoes. I’m sure this made for some interesting stories: gardening with family while barefoot.

My parents met when my mother was employed by my Dad’s family to help in the kitchen during wheat harvest season. They married and later built a home with a large, beautifully landscaped yard and a view of Mt. Hood.

My mother loved to garden and was proud of her beautiful flowers, which she enjoyed more than vegetable gardening. However, her small garden produced enough vegetables to enjoy all summer with enough to can for winter. As for me, I loved eating fresh tomatoes or peaches straight out of the garden, until the sweet juice ran down my chin.

When Dad wasn’t busy, he was always willing to help Mom with mowing or edging. He would plow a small garden, which I would dutifully plant every spring. In spite of my best intentions, I would invariably forget to water my little garden patch.

Gardening in the High Desert Region

I have gardened in the desert of Phoenix and the rainy climate of Portland, with mixed success. Today, I am back home, in the tiny town thirteen miles from my family’s ranch, where I continue to garden with mixed success. My yard was a mess when we moved home three years ago, filled with wild mustard and sand burrs, along with several agave plants and an abundance of hollyhocks that surprised us when we cleared the weeds that first summer.

We work in our yard as time allows. Improvements are slow but sure, and it seems that nearly everything we want to do is either too expensive or too time-consuming. (Eight-foot fence to keep the deer out? Nope!) My husband, an urban guy from New York, is proud of our accomplishments anyway.

Gardening in the high desert, where summers are hot, winters are cold, and water is scarce, is a constant challenge. I have learned what plants deer love (nearly everything), and what they tend to avoid (zinnias, echinacea, rudbeckia, poppies, and daisies). Our project this year was to plant a large section of our property in prairie grass and wildflowers. The wildflowers were spectacular and the weeds plentiful, but the blue grama and buffalo grass is sparse. I hope the experts are right when they say it will fill in.

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