Happenings at Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture

What exactly goes on behind the sign titled “Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture” on the OSU campus? Benton SWCD staff spent a sunny September morning this week, finding out just that. We toured the current riparian restoration activities and spectacular flower and vegetable gardens organized and maintained by students.

A flowering artichoke at Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture © H. Keirstead
A flowering artichoke at Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture

We held our staff meeting in the zen garden surrounded by bee hives in old tree trunks, ceramic pots and various shapes of wooden structures. There was a seven foot wall with water spilling over slabs of granite, which provided water to the bees and other invertebrates. This place right in the middle of the busy OSU campus, is quite a special place to visit and ponder awhile, about how we sometimes have a small part in influencing the path of others in their lives.

In 2011, I was contacted by Anita Azarenka, the Head of the Department of Horticulture, to talk about the options for a riparian restoration project along the 700 feet of Oak Creek, the portion the Department is responsible for maintaining. She wanted the project to be student run and provide an example of good stewardship to others.  Afterwards, there were several students working on the project, but in 2013, Signe Danler, a non-traditional student, took the project on as a thesis for her undergraduatedegree. She inventoried and documented transects of native and invasive vegetation across the buffer area. The document was called “A Vegetation Survey of the Oak Creek Riparian Zone at the Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture”.  She became interested the idea of applying horticultural concepts to land restoration, as well as ecological concepts to landscape design.  She then worked with me to submit an Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board grant to fund the restoration project.

Teresa Matteson with a squash at Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture © H. Keirstead. Keirstead
Teresa Matteson with a squash at Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture

Last Tuesday, Signe was our tour guide through the property. She has since completed her degree in Horticulture (summa cum laude) and is currently working on her masters’ degree.  As she said in her BSWCD Scholarship thank you letter, “Restoration of natural areas is an important field, but my own inclinations as a gardener, and as a parent concerned about the consequences of runaway population growth and climate change for my children, led me to focus on the urban/nature interface, and the need for ecological guidance for the establishment and maintenance of parks, natural areas, and civic landscape of all kinds. I feel strongly that we must get away from the idea of nature being “out there” and understand that we are part of, and stewards of, nature all around us; we must make it an integral, functioning part of urban landscapes, and our lives”

Life goes on, perhaps more guided and determined, behind the sign.