Brief History of the Cultivated Landscape in Bush’s Pasture Park

When the City of Salem purchased the property from the A.N. Bush family in the late 1940s, there were basically two historic elements of the cultivated landscape in Bush’s Pasture Park. The first element was the large collection of flowering trees (including 45 crabapples) which sweep west and north of the rose gardens and house, then east of the greenhouse to the ravine south of Bush Barn. These trees were planted largely by the landscape architecture firm of Lord & Schryver (L&S) while working for Sally Bush, daughter of A.N. Bush, during the 1930s and 1940s. Secondly, Elizabeth Lord was involved in the design of the foundation plantings around Bush House.

Under the guidance of the Parks Department of the city of Salem, the park as we know it was developed. In the early 1950s Arthur Erfeldt, landscape architect from Portland, was hired to provide the master plan for Bush’s Pasture Park. This included the design and landscaping of the parking lot and access roads, the layout of the hybrid tea rose gardens and, perhaps, the use of tulips followed by annuals in the beds surrounding the Victorian house. Lord and Schryver designed the plantings around Bush Barn and designed the layout and oversaw the installation of the Tartar Old Rose Collection. Through the years, the city planted many additional trees in the northwest corner of the park and established demonstration beds north of the greenhouse and on the bank east of the parking lot.

In 1991 Friends of Bush Gardens (FOBG) came on the scene. Its’ predecessor, The Bush Conservatory Gardeners, had been formed in 1979 to care for the plants in the newly rehabilitated conservatory. By 1996 five main gardens were under the umbrella of Friends of Bush Gardens:

The area north of the greenhouse, which contains the espaliered apple trees planted by the City of Salem in the 1960s, is a mixed border and is currently being redesigned to focus on plants mainly for fall interest and color.

The garden south of the greenhouse is a mixed border planted with predominately spring-blooming plantings. In the past, the cold-frame on the south wall of the greenhouse annually housed cuttings from The Tartar Old Rose Collection and the greater rose gardens propagated for our Spring Plant Sale and for replanting in the hybrid tea/floribunda beds.  Roses from the park may well be propagated again in the future.

Immediately south of Bush Barn are two large gardens planted under existing trees including three crabapples, a purple-leafed plum and an evergreen magnolia. Both of these beds were rehabilitated beginning in 1996 when the existing fifty peonies planted in the 1960’s were removed to restore the soil, redesign the gardens and replant. The rehabilitated peonies were replaced as the element of continuity in these contemporary mixed borders.

The fifth area slated for rehabilitation by FOBG is the ravine located immediately south of the play equipment. This area is also thought to have had some Lord and Schryver involvement in its’ original design, although Nobel Bashor, city gardener and horticulturist, had the main responsibility for developing this part of the park.

In 2011, enabled by funding from the Compton Family Foundation, the Rhododendron Hillside Garden was begun as a new major element of Bush’s Pasture Park under the direction of City of Salem Parks.  This under-utilized east-facing slope at the south side of the park has been laced with paths, enhanced with benches at two overlooks, and planted with hundreds of rhododendrons and companion trees, shrubs, and groundcovers.

It should be pointed out that the greater park is home to an amazing collection of native plants. When the early pioneers arrived, the Willamette Valley floor was covered with remnant oak savannah. Quercus garryana, the Oregon white oak, is the dominant tree in this ecosystem and can still be seen throughout the greater park. Included in the ongoing maintenance by the city is the care and replacement of the canopy of Quercus garryana, as well as the proper mowing schedule to maintain the extensive camas meadow northeast of the tennis courts.  In addition, Sofia Schwartz has spent years digging out blackberry and pruning snowberry on the slope southwest of the Willamette stadium to reveal a vast hillside of spring flowering native plants.

As one can see, the landscape in Bush’s Pasture Park is very complex and historically significant. These two qualities led to the formation of Friends of Bush Gardens and to our commitment to support the city to help preserve and enhance the landscapes in this “gem” of a city park.

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