Summertime at Edgefield Gardens: An Interview with Kim Kincaid, Garden Manager
Kim Kincaid is the garden manager of McMenamins Edgefield. She has been here since the beginning in 1991, when this former Multnomah County Poor Farm was overgrown with weeds and brambles, like an abandoned castle in a fairytale. With painstaking patience, resourcefulness, and a deep well of creativity, Kim’s indelible green thumbprint can now be seen all over this remarkable garden oasis.
Her landscape design unites both decorative and practical qualities. Her hard work and planning allowed Edgefield’s orchards, vineyards, flowers, trees, herbs, and vegetable gardens to thrive continuously for over thirty years and counting.
Kim kindly recalled her role in transforming Edgefield and the evolution of the gardens, from the early days of the 1990s
to today’s 74-acre profusion of plants of many colors, size and varieties. She brought lots of energy and knowledge to the position, having studied horticulture and landscape design through Clackamas Community College and Portland Community College. Her first major task was literally creating the Edgefield’s gardens from scratch, and ever since she has dedicated her efforts and artistic eye to managing this one-of-a-kind location.
Q: Did you grow up around gardening when you were young?
Kim: “My mom was a gardener. I was kind of a rough-and-tumble kid, playing outside. I think that’s where I feel comfortable. At that time, growing up in Oregon and out in the East county, it was much more rural than it is now. I remember berry fields everywhere, so I think that’s in my memory bank as a child.”
Q: Were there any plants, shrubs, trees remaining from the original Edgefield County Farm?
Kim: “There are a few things. There’s a stand of Douglas fir trees that were here. There were large groves of trees, but not a whole lot of ornamental landscape, because it was agriculture based. The old holly trees in front are original. It was just so overgrown. Patrick McNurney [the first –and still current– McMenamins grounds manager] was the original gardener here. He worked by himself when [Mike and Brian McMenamin] first acquired the property in 1990. He spent a lot of time removing blackberries from the building. They were everywhere. I remember he grew a beard because he was getting so cut up from the blackberries! I came in 1991 to help with the herb garden and the design.”
Q: Was Edgefield open while you were working on it?
Kim: “It was kind of done in phases. We were getting some of the production going, so getting the winery and the brewery going, getting the vineyard planted. The pinot gris was planted in 1990. The Power Station was McMenamins’ original restaurant on the property. And they served breakfast and had the hotel rooms up above. That was the first building to open [to the public].
“The main building was done in phases. So, it was: get the first floor done, get the second floor done…We’d come in behind and do the landscape installation. And in the interim, we sowed a lot of wildflower mixes. It was really pretty.
“When they opened up the Loading Dock, the landscape was much smaller. We ended up rejuvenating it and putting in the patio. I remember gardening at night with headlamps, to try to get the installation done.
“Patrick and I put in the woodland garden in the fir grove, and the pond in the Little Red Shed, and the meadow. It was funny, because we put that in, and then they decided they wanted to have weddings out there. It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s put this in to have a wedding venue,’ it was more like, ‘Let’s put this in,’ and then the weddings came.”
When strolling through the herb garden, minute and delicate signs of natural life surround you: butterflies, dragonflies, birds, honeybees, and bumblebees float between the flowers. Kim told us more about this delightful aspect to the garden experience.
Q: Do you have plants that especially attract butterflies or bees?
Kim: “We do. I think habitat is more important than anything right now, for gardening. People who have gardens should really be thinking about habitat for wildlife.
“We don’t use pesticides. We’ve been using organic methods from the get-go. Patrick and I were definitely in agreement
that there was a responsibility to enhance the property, and part of that is not using pesticides. We’ve had birders come and say, ‘Whoa, you have so many different species here!’ which feels really good.
“Observing this particular garden for so many years, I’ve really seen a change, especially over the last few years with all the wildfires happening closer to us, and climate change happening. It’s affected water usage for sure. I feel like all the gardeners are on board with having to do a lot of extra watering.”
Q: How many gardeners do you have?
Kim: “There are five of us here year-round, then we have two seasonal gardeners come in for a long growing season, usually spring through fall. Then we have someone in the ornamental landscape and we have someone assisting in the vegetable garden, too.
“Patrick and I have always been really fortunate to have a team of gardeners that are really interested in plants. We have a lot of plant enthusiasts. I love that people are coming to the gardens and appreciating them, and seeing the gardens for what they are.”
Q: What kind of produce do you have growing?
Kim: “Oh, all kinds of stuff! On average, we produce 5,000 pounds of vegetables for Edgefield’s Black Rabbit Restaurant kitchen. We meet with the chefs in the wintertime, before we start the seeds, so we’ll get an idea of what they’re interested in, before we plant the garden. It’s a collaboration, which is really fun. It’s about half an acre in production.
“Right now, we’re starting the summer harvest, so we’re picking summer squash, leeks, swiss chard, kale, collard greens. Tomatoes aren’t on yet. We’re harvesting potatoes, tomatillos. We just started picking green beans.
“When we choose the variety of vegetables we grow, we choose the varieties that are not readily available, so they’re more specialty. If we grow them from seed, we always use heirloom varieties. The majority of the seed is locally, regionally sourced, so it’s more adaptive to our climate. They are varieties that are more gourmet. So, that’s really fun.”
Q: What’s the easiest part of the garden?
Kim: “Gosh, that’s a good question. I guess the easiest part is just appreciating the work, and appreciating the beauty of
the property. Seasonally, I think summertime, depending on what you’re doing in the garden. In summertime we’re doing a little more routine maintenance and watering.”
Q: So, the easiest part is basically watching it grow?
“Yeah, watching it grow! [Kim laughs]. I think sometimes from a gardener’s perspective, it’s difficult to not just see the task. When I walk through the gardens, I see the weeds, I see what needs to be done, and not so much: ‘Wow, isn’t that gorgeous?’ It’s hard to un-train that eye, to always be looking at it that way. So, when I can, that’s the easiest part.
“Right now, we’re gearing up for harvesting the fruit trees, and that’s pretty intensive. We usually harvest three tons [of pears] off the orchard, that’s for the brandy, the distillery. In the wintertime, pruning is very intensive. Right now, the vegetable garden is in production, so they’re busier with harvesting almost every day.”
Q: Has the garden changed a lot over the years, or has the layout stayed the same?
Kim: “A garden is never static, but I feel the bones of the garden have remained the same. The trees are maturing, so I feel like the change that’s happening is more of the understory plantings. Because now, we’re under the canopies of these larger trees. When we first planted them, they were small. There was more sunshine, so we were doing more perennials that were sun-loving. Now there are more shrubs and more shade tolerant plants.”
Q: It must be really gratifying to see the trees mature, because it’s been such a long time.
Kim: “It’s interesting because it’s all relative. Thirty years for a tree, that’s not that long of a life, really. It’s interesting to look back. When I look at a tree that was planted in a one-gallon pot and it was only ten inches tall…now to see that it’s still not a full-grown tree, but it’s a big tree that still has a lot of years to go. So, that is very gratifying, to think that I might not ever see it mature in my lifetime. There’s something nice about that.”
Q: If somebody comes to Edgefield, what is the number one thing to see first, or make sure not to miss?
Kim: “I think the fir grove. There’s a beautiful little woodland garden. It’s pretty much right behind the Little Red Shed. There’s a path that goes through and then there’s a patio. It’s very peaceful, there are a lot of different Oregon native plants in that garden, and a lot of different species of rhododendrons. I think it’s just a really calming, peaceful garden.
“If someone was really interested in growing vegetables, I would say check out the vegetable garden. I think that the model we have is really good for people to look and go, ‘Okay, yeah! I can do this on a smaller scale.’ It’s very manageable, the way that system is set up. And the herb garden, it’s the first garden, and it’s playful and whimsical.”
Kim shows me a collection of three gigantic concrete planters behind the Power Station pub. The unusual composition of textures stands out beautifully. It’s surprising to learn how these planters were originally used.
Kim: “These were the manure troughs, because they had cattle and pigs [on the original poor farm]. When [McMenamins was] building the golf course, they were unearthed. At that time, we had all this heavy equipment. So, we put them here and capped the ends of them. We did different soil blends, so we could grow different plants according to their soil requirements. This one we call the ‘desert trough’, because there’s not really any organic matter. Most of the plants here are drought tolerant. This one is the ‘alpine trough’, so the PH is more basic. And then there’s the ‘peat trough’, which has more acidic soil. It was a really fun project to do.”
Q: The greenhouse was original to the farm, right?
Kim: “Yes, the greenhouse was built in the 1930s. This style of greenhouse is an old dugout, which you don’t see anymore. In the winter, it will be packed. We’ll dig the plants that aren’t hearty, we usually put them in barrels, and we’ll winter those over. There’s pumice stone and then hot water piping that goes through the benches, so it’s all just radiant heat, rather than using a bunch of electricity.”
Kim and her team of gardeners are getting ready for the plant sale at Edgefield’s Oktoberfest celebration on Saturday, September 24th, where you can buy Edgefield-grown plants and fresh produce from the vegetable garden. Other gifts will be available, too. Ruby’s Spa uses lavender, rose, chamomile and other herbs from the garden in their aromatic massage oils and specialty care products, which can also be purchased year-round in Edgefield’s gift shop.
Gardening is Punk Rock
P.S. There’s one more thing you may have never guessed about Kim. She was the lead singer of the punk band, the Neo Boys, during the original era of pure punk music in the late 1970s to early ‘80s. The Neo Boys were one of the first (if not the first) all-women punk bands in Portland. In 2013, their double album compilation of rare and live tracks from 1977-1983, Sooner or Later, was re-released on K Records (the acclaimed Pacific Northwest label and champion of independent, underground music). The Riot Grrrl punk bands that exploded in the ‘90s and underground bands today can trace a musical lineage back to these groundbreaking women and early innovators of punk rock. The Neo Boys were the real deal.
And Kim was only 14 years old when she recorded and performed with the band! Her powerful, youthful lifeforce and rebellious energy on those recordings is as fresh and tough as any punk today. She’s the OG.
You might not readily see a connection between fierce, Do-It-Yourself punk energy and the patient, gentle work of gardening, but the roots are deep and intertwined. Punk music and gardens are both created from scratch. Both exist in a natural state—outside of the “system” and unprocessed. Kim told us how her music came about.
Kim: “[Punk music] spoke to me because it didn’t have a lot of rules. You could get up and express yourself without knowing how to play lead guitar, do riffs. I mean, this was coming out of the 70s…so I think it was kind of a retaliation to what we were offered as young people, on the radio. It was just so inspired! Hearing the Sex Pistols for the first time, or hearing Patti Smith, and what was happening in New York and all these little enclaves around the country…
“But in those days, in Portland, there were not clubs like there are now, there wasn’t that kind of support for music. I felt like before ‘DIY’, you really had to be DIY. If you wanted to play music, then you rented the hall, you financed your own record, you did it all yourself. I think it was really good, for a young teenager, to have these women peers, and develop this discipline, at such a young age. We practiced every day, we were so dedicated to it.
“When I think about that era of music and managing a garden now, I learned so much of what it’s like to collaborate. To me, that is so important—communication and collaboration. From those early years with the band, that has really carried over into my life as a skill, and something that’s really important to this day.”
Photos by Elysia Scholl (except photos from 1990s)
All-Ways admired the skills and leadership that Kim displays. Her contributions are what has instilled the magistry and beauty of the Edgefield’s greenery!
Thanks for sharing such a great story!
I have always loved to go to Edgefield to see all the beautiful garden work. This is a really special work. Thank you, Kim.
Always loved going through the vegetable & herb gardens at Edgefield. Kim & her team have done an awesome job. I just wished I was a better Gardner and that my yard and plants looked just as good!
The sourwood, the edgeworthia, the variety of euphorbia, daphne, hebe helped me in my early garden. All thanks to Kim! The plants welcome you at Edgefield; they are the best host we have.
The grounds are lovely!
You have a green thumb!