Hinsdale Rhododendron Garden: Reedsport

Bordering the Umpqua River the Hinsdale Garden is a hidden treasure.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 Hinsdale Rhododendron Garden is a woodland treat.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.

Woodland path through Hinsdale Rhododendron Garden.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.

A mini bus arrives to transport visitors.

Mini buses transport visitors to the garden.

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 new website, open days in 2017 are:

April 15: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
April 29: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
May 13: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

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Fairview Peak Lookout
Changes at Bake Stewart Park

Comments

  1. Colette, This is an excellent blog post with a lot of great information about the Hinsdale Rhododendron Garden and how it came to be. I knew very little about this special place before reading this story, Now it is definitely a must see stop when I’m on my way to the Coast along Highway 38!

    • Thanks Rick, I thought the garden had a fascinating story. I’ve driven Highway 38 a lot and didn’t even know it was there until I saw the Travel Oregon video. Unfortunately, it is only open a couple times a year; though my understanding is that long range goals are to have it open more often. It would be fun to stop there for picnics along the Umpqua.

  2. Definitely hidden! I had no idea it was there.
    Great information. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I have been waiting for the opening this year. Any news on the dates for 2015?

    Thanks,

    celine

    • Hi Celine,
      I have not heard about open dates this year. They announce them on their Facebook page once they set the dates (last year they announced them mid-March). To find their Facebook page search “Friends of Hinsdale Garden Reedsport, Oregon” from Facebook.
      Colette

    • Hi Celine,
      They’ve announced the 2015 open dates for the garden. They are April 18th and 25th and May 9th from 10 – 2. Check out their Facebook page ( “Friends of Hinsdale Garden Reedsport, Oregon”) for details.

  4. Finally made it on the 18th. So serene and beautiful. Hope the relocation of the bats to their new home is successful. Saw a beautiful orange rhody out behind the house. Got lots of pics and share them with anyone who will listen. So worth the trip.

  5. Jo-Anna Thies says:

    We have been trying to find this garden for 4 years!! Sad that it will not be open in 2016! Hopefully next year it will be open.

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