Enchanted garden

Lilla Larsen shares her garden with the community through the Two Rivers Heritage Museum's annual plant fairs

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Volunteers with the Camas-Washougal Historical Society and the Two Rivers Heritage Museum are preparing for the annual plant fairs.

The events will be held Saturday, May 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, June 7, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the museum, 1 Durgan St., Washougal.

A variety of locally grown plants and flowers, from Camas lilies and hellebores to strawberry and raspberry plants, will be available for sale, in addition to nearly 200 chrysanthemums, donated by Bill Lavin of Washougal Hardware. There will also be decorative garden items, including hand-made birdhouses.

Master Gardener Vern Schanilec will be on hand to answer questions.

Volunteers are needed to weed pots, dig and plant donated items, and affix labels. To help, call the museum at 835-8742 and leave a message for Alma Ladd.

Plants will also be for sale throughout May, during museum hours, Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Volunteers with the Camas-Washougal Historical Society and the Two Rivers Heritage Museum are preparing for the annual plant fairs.

The events will be held Saturday, May 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, June 7, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the museum, 1 Durgan St., Washougal.

A variety of locally grown plants and flowers, from Camas lilies and hellebores to strawberry and raspberry plants, will be available for sale, in addition to nearly 200 chrysanthemums, donated by Bill Lavin of Washougal Hardware. There will also be decorative garden items, including hand-made birdhouses.

Master Gardener Vern Schanilec will be on hand to answer questions.

Volunteers are needed to weed pots, dig and plant donated items, and affix labels. To help, call the museum at 835-8742 and leave a message for Alma Ladd.

Plants will also be for sale throughout May, during museum hours, Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

As a child growing up in Oslo, Norway, Lilla Larsen would often venture to her favorite hideaways — the coastal city’s lush forests and meadows.

They were places filled with wildflowers — violets, red clover, lily of the valley — which she would pick to create lovely bouquets.

“That was my outlet,” she said. “It would make me happy.”

Vases and vases of these colorful bundles filled her childhood home.

“We had bouquets all over the house — everywhere.”

Larsen’s mother, Nusse, instilled in her daughter a love of plants and flowers. The family’s yard was filled with white tulips, pink roses, silver spruce, Persian lilacs and double mock orange. But her mother rarely let her pick from them, preferring instead to maintain the garden for display.

In her frustration, Larsen vowed to one day have a place of her own, where she could plant and pick to her heart’s content.

“When my mother told me to quit picking the flowers, I told her, ‘when I get big I am going to have a huge garden.”

And, decades later, that is exactly what she has created.

Larsen moved to the United States in 1967, to join her husband, Thor, who arrived in 1966 so that he could finish his education in Pullman, Wash. They moved to Southwest Washington when he was offered a job with the city of Camas, later becoming the building official.

One day, while she was bicycling in Washougal, a historical home on 39th and “J” streets caught Larsen’s eye.

“It was ready for the bulldozer, really. The windows were boarded up and holes were plugged with paper. It looked pretty shabby,” she said. “But I loved the porches and I loved the woodwork.”

The couple purchased the house, built in the late 1800s, and began to make it their own. Larsen finally had a place for the garden she dreamed of as a child.

During the past four decades, their yard has transformed into a magical botanical escape, filled with hundreds of varieties of plants, flowers, shrubs and trees.

“I have been frugal in most areas of my life,” said Larsen, now 70 years old. “But if I came to a nursery and there were plants I wanted, nothing was stopping me.”

The collection has also been enhanced by gifts from friends and family members. Every one seems to have its own unique story. There are Japanese anemone, white lilac, Arctic maidenhair fern, quince, lily of the valley, campanula, clematis, peony, forsythia, alstroemeria and creeping Jenny, as well as a dramatic Belgian fence created with 17 varieties of plum trees — its branches trained into a lattice pattern.

“I collected things I remembered from childhood,” Larsen said. “What you loved as a child, you still want to see.”

Over the years, Larsen has made hundreds of arrangements to enjoy daily in her home and for special occasions.

“I always have fresh flowers in the house,” she said. “They come so much more to life in the house, in an arrangement. I enjoy picking flowers, and I enjoy even more making arrangements.”

In the 1990s, to learn more about integrating floral textures and colors, she enrolled in classes through Clark College in Vancouver and the Flower Design Studio in Portland. From 2000 to 2010, she worked as a florist operating her own business — Divine Gifts.

For many years now, ,Larsen has also donated plants from her yard to the Two Rivers Heritage Museum for its annual plant sale. The event, which is coming up on May 16 and June 7, is the organization’s biggest fundraiser, according to Camas-Washougal Historical Society vice-president and event chairwoman Alma Ladd.

This year alone, Ladd has helped dig up and haul several truck loads from Larsen’s garden. The selection at this year’s sale will include lemon balm, oregano, forget-me-not, Hawaiian box, lineria, bachelor button, iris and Columbine.

“She’s given us so many neat, unusual plants,” Ladd said.

Larsen has been slowed down a bit in recent years due to some health issues. Although she isn’t spending as much time in her garden as she one did, she stays active with classes in chi gong and tai chi. She also meditates, and when the teacher instructs the students to “go to a happy place,” Larsen harkens back to her childhood in Oslo.

“I think about the forests and meadows,” she said. “I go to the same places in my mind. I’m right there. Time doesn’t matter.”

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