Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Special Gardens of the West

Jane Sherar had a garden. It was carved from a rock ledge overlooking the Deschutes River in Central Oregon. She and her husband ran a hotel that at the time – the late 1800s – was the largest structure between San Francisco and Seattle. The hotel called the Sherar House was built where a bridge crossed the Deschutes River on the Old Dalles Military Highway. The Dalles was a bustling town along the Columbia River at the time, and shipments to the gold fields kept people on the road heading into Eastern Oregon.

Descendents told me about Jane's garden and I had photographs of little bridges leading from the third story of the hotel right out to that ledge garden high above the river in the rimrocks.  In my book, I had her plant vegetables but also a sweet grape arbor. It just seemed like the perfect place. Watering wouldn’t have been easy with the garden high above the river, but they had hotel employees – many employed from the nearby Indian reservation – who likely carried heavy buckets of water across those little bridges out to the garden to feed those thirsty plants.

Before I finished writing the book, A Sweetness to the Soul, where the garden is mentioned, I received a phone call from a man who said as a boy he’d stayed at the Sherar House hotel one summer. His father was an engineer and worked on the fish ladder there. The man told me that his brother, father, mom and this now elderly man had the run of the hotel.

 “Do you remember the ledge garden?” I asked him.

“Oh yes. I slept on the third floor and the bridge went from my room out to that ledge where the railroad goes now.”

“I don’t suppose you’d have any idea what they planted there?”

“For certain they had sweet grapes. Some of the old vine still stood.”

The hotel burned not long after they’d spent their summer there, but I will always remember the delight of discovering that something I’d written in fiction had a basis in fact… I just hadn’t known that when I wrote it. It’s a garden to remember. Photos show the hotel, but sadly, not the garden. You can see photos of the garden at this link:

What gardens have you visited that are worth mentioning?

Jane Kirkpatrick’s latest full-length novel, Where Lilacs Still Bloom, is based on another famous garden in Woodland, Washington.  A Sweetness to the Soul, her first novel, won a Wrangler Award and was named by Oregon Humanities as one of the best 100 books about Oregon published in the last 200 years. A New York Times best-selling author, Jane is a founding member of Women Writing the West, author of 22 books, most of which are historical novels based on the lives of actual historical women. Her titles have won WILLA Literary Awards and been Oregon Book Award finalists and Christy finalists. She lives in Central Oregon with her husband of 36 years, two dogs and a cat. You can find Jane, her blog, and her dog's blog at

1 comment:

Doris Eraldi said...

When I was growing up in Sonoma CA we would hike and ride on a ranch in the hills above Sonoma - an area with a lot of history and many local tales connected to it. There were several old cabin sites and one--all that remained was a stone foundation--sat below an impressive rock formation in a basin with a little spring, and had a garden of prickly pear cactus and, in the spring, a huge patch of daffodils. We would make a pilgrimage every spring to see the flowers and when the elderly owners of the ranch were no longer able to drive we would stop to pick them up in the jeep and bring Helen up to see the daffodils. She had grown up there, and never missed a spring visit to the old cabin site and its enduring garden.