SE Portland natural gardener is star of Metro tour circuit

Can you have a beautiful lawn and garden – without using chemical? Meet a man whose garden paradise is kept lush by totally natural means …

“Natural gardener” John Caine says he’s happy to share his secrets with guests who came by during Metro’s Gardens of Natural Delight” tour.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The pursuit of beautiful flowerbeds and a lush, green lawn lead many homeowners to get out the chemical-based pesticides and fertilizers.

“More citizens nowadays are interested in keeping their yards safe for children and pets,” said Carl Grimm, Metro’s Natural Gardening and Toxics Reduction Specialist, as he told us about the tenth annual “Gardens of Natural Delight” tour on Sunday, July 13. “They’re also interested in protecting our waterways from harmful and polluting garden chemicals.”

Thirty gardens throughout the tri-county area offered free, self-guided tours. Grimm suggested we see John Caine’s garden in Sellwood.

Every square foot of yard – including this narrow side walk – is covered with naturally-tended foliage.

SE Portland gardener highlighted
“Welcome to the banana-belt of Portland,” John Caine said as he welcomed us – and hundreds of others throughout the day – to his backyard paradise on SE 7th Avenue in Sellwood.

“Need proof?” challenged Caine. “I have a banana orchard over here.”

As guests circulated in his garden, oooing and aaahing over his colorful plants, greenery, and Koi pond, Caine said his purpose was to show folks that they could get great results while maintaining a garden organically.

“People are surprised at how luscious a garden one can have, using organic gardening methods. You don’t have to use chemicals,” Caine said.

35 years of gardening
We asked Caine how he got involved in organic gardening.

“I’ve been in the nursery industry and the landscaping industry for 35 years,” he explained. “After spending so much time in greenhouses where so many chemicals were used, I quit. I was afraid of being hurt by all the chemicals.”

About 10 years ago, he said, he started down the organic path, by using hot pepper wax spray on his roses to keep aphids off them. “I had such good luck; I really got into organic gardening. I’d used compost all my life, but this was a turning point away from using chemicals. I soon found all kinds of other natural gardening methods were available.”

Informational signs posted throughout the garden instruct visitors in the ways of organic gardening.

Natural fertilizer is best
“A compost pile is one of the best sources of fertilizers that you can have,” declared Caine. “You recycle the nutrients right in your garden. And, not using quick-dissolving fertilizers keeps keep unwanted nutrients out of our rivers.

Additionally, the master gardener says, he thinks organic fertilizers actually work better than chemical nutrients – and offered his garden as proof. He continued saying that some commercially-available natural fertilizers, like “Dr. Earth”, add positive fungus that helps plants grow and fend off diseases.

Pesticide prescription
In place of using commercial chemical insecticides, he recommends using natural products that can be found at area mass merchandisers.

“Last year, I picked up some garlic oil at Fred Meyer,” recalled Caine. “Instead of killing insects, it keeps them from coming up onto the plant’s foliage. Garlic oil also works as a fungicide. I use it on my roses to get rid of black spot.”

Russel Callen and Esther Westbrook say they’ll put to use concepts they learned at Caine’s garden at their Westmoreland home.

Seeing is believing
Caine said the best part of being on the tour was seeing the reactions of visitors as they walk around his house and through is back yard. “When they see the results of natural gardening, they believe they can do it, too.”

In addition to talking with gardener Caine, signs and displays around the grounds provided visitors with information.

Westmoreland residents, and natural gardening acolytes, Esther Westbrook and Russel Callen said they learned a lot by visiting Caine’s garden.

“We’re looking for tips on doing natural gardening,” Westbrook said. “This garden is a good example of how beautiful a natural garden can be.”

Holding back nothing, Caine displays his “tools of the trade” in including his gardening favorites, an English Border Fork, Border Shovel and Scuffle Hoe. There aren’t any chemicals – these are all natural products.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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