Beth Holland puts the ‘culture’ in ‘horticulture’

Beth Holland, a landscape contractor, stands in her greenhouse near her home in the Haystack Heights neighborhood. The greenhouse was built by the late Cannon Beach wood artist Sean Ohrenich.

For almost three decades, Cannon Beach resident Beth Holland, a 63-year-old organic landscaper, has helped to quietly shape the aesthetic of Cannon Beach and Astoria.

Though some of her work has been altered over the years, a great deal of her original garden designs can still be seen outside the Cannon Beach Gallery, the Cannon Beach Hotel, Columbia Bank, the Inn at Haystack Rock and other notable establishments.

In Astoria, Holland has landscaped the roundabout, the Maritime Memorial garden and the Mill Pond kiosk. She also designed the layout of trees along Exchange Street and avenues 18 and 20.

Asked what kinds of plants she’s used at each location, Holland replied, “You don’t want to go there.” The number is just too high.

Rather than the typical pattern of plant, then bark mulch, then plant, then bark mulch, she prefers to cover the ground in a matrix of plant material that holds weeds down.

Ornamental grasses, indigenous trees and hardy perennials and shrubs tend to figure into her designs. Whenever possible, she chooses plants based on a site’s theme: At the Maritime Memorial garden, for example, she planted rosemary, a symbol of remembrance.

“It’s an incredible thing how people respond and relate to beauty,” she said. “You can, in a sense, really improve people’s lives, and the way a town looks is a big part of how comfortable people are.”

Artists who work with plants have a vast palette to work with. And in Cannon Beach — which has a “phenomenal growing climate,” where you’re “constantly inspired by the beauty of nature” — becoming a great gardener is that much more doable, she said.

Holland grew up in Portland and, right after high school, moved to Cannon Beach. Her parents still own four acres of property in Cannon Beach.

In 1973, she traveled with her friend Gayle Greenwood — who co-founded the White Bird Gallery with Evelyn Georges two years prior — to Logan, Utah. While Holland was there, she enrolled in the horticulture program at Utah State University.

Soon after returning, she met Mike Morgan, who was then working for the Clatsop-Tillamook Intergovernmental Council and writing comprehensive plans for cities up and down the Oregon Coast. He is now the mayor of Cannon Beach.

The couple moved into the house Morgan built in the Haystack Heights neighborhood and married in 1980. They added a greenhouse in 1990.

A trip to England, where Holland explored the country’s major gardens, was a “game changer” for her, she said. Holland became convinced that “there would never be any end to how much I could learn” about horticulture.

She founded her own flower shop, Holland’s Flowers, in 1981 on Hemlock Street, just north of the White Bird Gallery. Her business moved around several times, at one point occupying a small greenhouse where Village Centre is now located.

Holland’s friend, Grace Dinsdale, would grow the plants in her nursery for Holland to sell. “Anything to do with flowers, we were doing it.”

She closed the business in 1994.

Holland had no idea where she was headed when she opened her shop. “I mean, I just thought I was selling daffodils for 50 cents a bunch.”

After that, however, she branched out into landscaping.

In the 1990s, she joined Cannon Beach’s design review board, where she and fellow board member June Kroft — who later worked for the city of Cannon Beach as a horticultural specialist — played a role in crafting the landscaping criteria of the design review process.

“We brought that back into the light of day, as far as the impact that landscaping has on the city,” Holland said.

Meanwhile, every winter, she and Morgan traveled the globe. While roving through Europe, Asia, South America, Holland always had horticulture in mind, she said. It was one of the main things she was “looking for and paying attention to.”

For the past two years, Holland, an active member of the 88-year-old Cannon Beach Garden Club, has given a talk at the Cannon Beach History Center & Museum’s annual Cottage & Garden Tour.

Both years, she and other garden club members read from the club’s minutes from the 1950s and were reminded that gardening and landscaping can have a “real impact in the community,” fostering a sense of civic beauty and civic pride.

Holland would like to see the city have a horticulturist on staff once again — someone who, like June Kroft, “has a real love of plants” and knows how to use them to make the city a better place.

Such a move would reinforce the city’s focus on the arts as “a really important part of our scene here, our culture,” she said.

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