Jan Upton: From her garden to yours

Jan dug deep, turning the compost, and as it spilled over exposing  rich organic soil,  her young daughter Kate stood alert, pulling out the largest earthworms then just holding them in her hands.

The Portland ReStore has been a little more green the last couple of years? In large part that is due to the efforts of donor Jan Upton who crates in a carload of plants and seedlings weekly during the growing season. Full disclosure: This donor is the mother of Assistant Store Manager Kate Ayres, and if you know Kate, you know that spark had to come from a very, very good place.  

While Jan and her husband were raising their three children, she also took on the task of remodeling their farmhouse home.

“The most challenging project was when we had the back roof removed and a flat roof installed to add three bedrooms and a bathroom into the empty attic area,” she said. “A contractor did most of the work, but we did the plumbing, most of the electrical and finish woodwork.”  

Jan, who holds a degree in biology and a fascination with botany, in particular, also took charge of landscaping the entire lot – nearly a full acre – filling it with perennials, lavender, bee balm, and loads of vegetables, radiating out in raised beds around a central fountain. (The aromatics for the bees and hummingbirds)

“I just really enjoy the bees coming in,” Jan added. “Bees are kind of threatened, and so seeing all these plants with all the bees on them makes me happy.”

Keeping her garden groomed, Jan used to throw overgrown perennials into the compost, now she plants them in pots and gives them a firm footing before labeling then donating them to the Portland ReStore. To aid in the effort, Jan put the word out at her church that she was collecting small containers for plant clippings. Congregants and friends at the historic Tualatin Plains Presbyterian Church delivered, and Jan’s new project took root.

Cultivating the garden is one thing, but Jan has also had her hand in creative designs for musical theatre productions at Glencoe High School.

“I started out just painting the sets, then ended up after about 10 years I was actually designing the sets, implementing them, doing sculptures and things that they might need at the end,” she said, “which was very interesting because whenever you make these things, you have to make them quick and fast, and they only have to look good for the audience.”

Jan volunteered in the canine division of Mountain Wave Search and Rescue, too. Though plans to train her own pet to become a search dog didn’t work out, she continued to work with the group, going on searches, for some time.

For the last 12 years Jan Upton was a volunteer puppy coach for Autism Service Dogs of America in Tualatin. The organization pairs fully trained service dogs with autistic children.

Once a litter is born, the agency evaluates the personality of each puppy, selecting 1 or 2 with just the right temperament to become service dogs. At 8 weeks, the selected puppy is handed over to the puppy coach.

“Essentially it was like puppy preschool where I would teach them house training,” she said.

Jan explained that in Oregon a puppy in training has the same legal rights as a fully-trained service dog. So once Jan was given her charge, she would take that puppy with her just about everywhere she went.

“New Seasons was great, and we would just stand outside and listen to the shopping carts go back and forth, or watch people going back and forth,” she said. It’s all about positive reinforcement, Jan explained. “So when a cart goes by, you give a puppy a treat. And it’s just a Kibble usually. So they begin to associate that noise is good.”

After the initial 8-week training period where the pup would learn basic skills like leash walking, the puppy would move on to another puppy coach who would have the dog, followed by another year with head trainers before finally being placed with a child with autism.

Her own dog has developed arthritis, so Jan has had to put puppy preschool on hold for now. Just recently, she has begun training to be a volunteer guide at the Oregon Zoo.

Jan mentioned the zoo’s enrichment program where volunteers make quilts for monkeys and big apes. But that’s not really Jan’s field.

“I really like to do some of the horticulture stuff,” she said. “They have a whole section of that!”

Last week Jan delivered her last crop of plants for the season to the ReStore. Standing beside 4-inch pots of chocolate mint and lavender, were tall stalks of spotted-leafed calla lilies. Though it may be summer before the calla’s bright yellow blossoms return, we hope it won’t be that long before we see Jan Upton back in the ReStore again, arms filled with green-leafed vegetables, native flowers and scented perennials.

Jan’s Farmer’s Almanac:

  1. Fall plantings: “This is a good time to plant perennials. You can plant chard, kale. Kale will even live through a frost and it gets a really nice taste after a frost.”  It’s also a great time to plant lettuce.
     
  2. Add green manure in winter:  Sow Alfalfa, peas, and oats in the garden. “It will sprout now and then it will grow a little bit. I turn that under in the spring and that gets a lot of organic matter into the soil…It’s like adding a nitrogen supplement.” Plus, it keeps the weeds down.
     
  3. Garden hose pest control: “Aphids come often this time of year on the kale, and all I do is hit it with a spray from the hose. I hit it hard. What that does is knock the aphids off onto the ground then there are other bugs down there that will eat the aphids.”
     
  4. Technique: “They always say when you plant something, dig the hole bigger than what you are putting in, especially if it’s really hard ground because that loosens it up.”
     
  5. Favorites: “I like a lot of native plants. I have lots of ferns and Oregon grape. It’s not a grape, it’s the state plant. It’s very native to this area. It has some yellow flowers and you can get berries from it too, which you may be able to eat.”
     
  6. “I garden on survival of the fittest. So if it doesn’t make it, I’m fine.”

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