Human Flower Project

Kinzy Faire ~ Barber Meets Champagne Cork

A pair of tenacious Oregon gardeners walk the high-wire “between order and chaos.” Horticulturist (and lifelong learner) Allen Bush takes us along.


Linda Beutler leads a horticulture class at Kinzy Faire,

Millie Kiggins and Penny Vogel’s garden near Estacada, OR

Photo: Allen Bush

By Allen Bush

Ferris Bueller might not have skipped school if he had been taking Linda Beutler’s herbaceous perennials class. (Ferris, you may remember, was the mischievous high school boy who took a day-long romp in a “borrowed” 1961 Ferrari 250 GT in the 1986 comedy film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. )

Instead, he would have been happily motoring in Beutler’s school van, making the slow trip to Kinzy Faire, the beautiful private garden near Estacada, Oregon.

Clackamas Community College in Oregon City has a respected horticulture curriculum designed to train gardeners and serve Oregon’s nursery industry – a leading U.S. producer of ornamental trees and shrubs, now approaching one billion dollars in annual revenues. Linda Beutler, an author and expert on Clematis and flower arranging, is teaching the class this summer.

She introduced eleven students to the two extraordinary women of Kinzy Faire, Millie Kiggins and and Penny Vogel, who have been on their own long, wonderful ride.


Rancher and carpenter Millie Kiggins held onto the family farm by barbering

Photo: Allen Bush

Kiggins, a rancher, carpenter and barber, grew up here on the farm. Vogel is a part-time librarian and overdrive gardener. A mother of three, grandmother of nine and great-grandmother of one, Vogel arrived with her husband twenty-five years ago. She rented a house from Millie, started planting flowers and hasn’t stopped. (Millie has legally adopted Penny to preserve the farm and gardens.)

Millie Kiggins’s maternal grandfather Fink drove a herd of dairy cows forty miles to Estacada from Linnton, Oregon, just north of Portland, in 1913. The cows were dead within a year. “There just wasn’t enough to graze,” Kiggins said. Somehow he endured.  She proudly added, “The Finks were from tough German stock.” Her mother met her father “when she got a plow hung-up on a blind stump.” He got her out. 

By the 1950s Millie was growing three hundred acres of Chewings Fescue grass seed on leased land. Prices dropped to eleven cents a pound, and she was $46,000 in debt. Kiggins went to barber school, opened a shop in town, charged two bucks for a haircut and paid-off the debt. “I didn’t leave anyone hanging.”  And she held onto the farm.

imageMillie Kiggins and Penny Vogel at the chapel Kiggens built as a tribute to her maternal grandparents

Photo: Allen Bush

There she built houses, outbuildings and a charming chapel with her hands. The chapel, built in 1990, honors the memory of her grandparents who first settled here.

Vogel spent a lot of time beating back a jungle of ferns and blackberries when she first arrived in 1983, before planting a garden that now approaches three acres. Before long she developed a fascination with the unusual, harder-to-find plants. “I’m a collector of stuff,” she says—then adds, “Things got out of control.”  Her passion for plants went unchecked but Vogel has a keen intuition; she can’t control nature but keeps a grip on maintenance. There’s hardly weed in sight.

Vogel, a self-taught gardener, explained what happened along the learning curve: “Oh yeah, I learned the hard way,” a point lost perhaps on the listeners (After picking up a lot from Beutler’s class, they too will kill a bunch of plants, make lots of mistakes and learn gardening the hard way, also.) “I didn’t do it the way you’re supposed to do it,” Vogel admits.

“Penny’s style is like a champagne cork shot out of the bottle,” Beutler tells the group.

The gardens, on one side of her house, are neatly edged. There are repeating patterns in the sun border of fuzzy, gray Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina), the yellow Sedum ‘Angelina’ and the Blue Star Creeper, Pratia pedunculata, a Tasmanian native that Beutler says is not invasive. “You can outrun it,” she tells us confidently.

imageGrove of birch trees

(Betula jaquemontii),

a Himalayan species

Photo: Allen Bush

These colorful combinations are punctuated by pale yellow flowering Achilleas, the brick red Calceolaria asiatica, pale yellow flowering Cape Fuchsias (Phygelius capensis), lovely roses in complementary shades of yellow, and lots of Clematis. Vogel hasn’t kept track of the total number of Clematis: “I haven’t a clue except to say LOTS and it’s probably better I don’t know the exact number.” Beutler vividly describes one blue-gray selection as the color of “washed denim.” A rambling white flowering cultivar, the Snow Clematis, ‘Paul Farges,’ stretches far into tree tops. Solomon’s Seals (Polygonatum), Epimediums and a striated cultivar of Lily of the Valley fill-in shadier areas.

I am amazed to see a few pink Japanese peony blooms coinciding with roses (it wouldn’t happen in Kentucky, where even the last peony stragglers would be gone by mid-June) but the spring and early summer here have remained cooler than normal – even by Pacific Northwest standards - and the stars were aligned for an early July show. Beutler and Vogel are impressed, too.

Midway along the tour (Kiggins and Vogel tagged along), Beutler dazzled her students, explaining the complicated details of the Lenten Rose’s (Helleborus x hybridus) flowering nectaries—how they can be bred to resemble a more substantial row of double sepals that masquerade as petals. She brought it down a notch in the next breath by passing around a cut stem of Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis), asking the class to brush the leaves. They smelled like cucumbers. Chopped leaves are used as flavoring for cold Pimm’s Cup, the English cocktail. The students, who are just becoming acquainted with binomial Latin nomenclature (complicated enough), seemed overwhelmed about the Hellebore transfiguration, but they got the bit about the Pimm’s Cup.

There is a birch grove of Betula jaquemontii, a Himalayan species, whose flaky white bark is shot full of sapsucker holes. This reminds me of birch forests I’ve seen on a long bus ride between St. Petersburg, Russia, and Tallinn, Estonia. Vogel says this species has proved more durable than other birches that are ripped apart by ice storms.

imageGeranium pratense and company in Penny Vogel’s garden at Kinzy Faire

Photo: Allen Bush

The paths around the exquisitely maintained perennial borders, and the birch grove, lead around the back of Vogel’s house to a little rock garden with Erodiums, Campanulas, Scabiosas, and Triteleia sp.– all of them xeric lovers. Just beyond, on the way to the chapel, is an informal woodland garden, different from what we have seen before.

Maintenance here is subtle, masterful and loose.  This, even more than the impeccably groomed borders, is a gardening high wire act between order and chaos. Strawberries carpet the ground in one outdoor room and shrub limbs have to be lightly brushed aside to proceed to the next. Leave any of this alone and the garden would be overgrown within months. Vogel gives no hint she’ll be taking-off, not in the growing season.

On the woodland edge is a shrub I can’t identify. (Actually, there are dozens of plants I can’t figure-out.) Penny tells me this is the South American, Fabiana imbricata, a stump-the-chumps member of the Deady Nightshade Solonaceae family. The small pale lavender flowers look closer in shape to those of wintergreen (Gaultheria sp) in the Ericaceae family.

We reach the chapel that is as beautiful as it is modest in its proportions. The students are reverently impressed with Kiggins’s handiwork.

Some in the class dream of gardening professionally; others hope to find more time to dabble in their gardens. Kinzy Faire – a lifetime’s work - is the field trip’s humbling lesson.

Ferris Bueller never did get the Ferrari back to his friend’s father’s garage.

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