By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Eight handpicked gardens in Keizer will be on full display next weekend – and for a good cause.

The 16th A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village Garden Tour and Plant Sale will center around Keizer this year Friday and Saturday, June 3-4. Ray Schreiner’s three-plus acre personal home garden and Dorris Nightengale’s “flower wonderland” are just two of the eight available for touring over the two days, said Stephanie Lenox, promotions director for Discovery Village.

“It’s a self-guided tour over two days where people can travel (and) view private gardens,” Lenox said. “You’re going to find something you like on this tour.”

Last year’s event was in the Court-Chemeketa district downtown, and about 450 people bought tickets – “and we’re hoping for more, but it’s very weather-dependent,” Lenox said. It’s the first Keizer stop for the tour in 12 years.

Tickets are available at any Salem-Keizer area Roth’s Fresh Markets or at A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village, at 116 Marion Street NE in Salem. Call 503-371-3631. Tickets include a program with a garden map and descriptions. The plant sale will be at The Willamette Heritage Center at The Mill.

Gardeners agree to have their work featured, but not before volunteer Cathy Stiles and others track down their favorites.

So what is Stiles looking for? First, she tries to find a couple of “good, solid gardens” where the owners say yes. Then she tries to find variety.

“We look for structure,” Stiles added. “You can’t just have a couple of rose bushes and no real structure. Oftentimes we look for water features for the sound to also be included.”

“They start walking down streets, peering over people’s fences, snooping around, talking to neighbors and going to garden stores,” Lenox said. “They spend several months honing in on the best gardens in that area.”

“I’m surprised we haven’t been taken to jail,” Stiles said. “I’ve stood on the front of my car to look over fences, peek through peepholes. We call it drive-by shootings because we have our camera with us.”

“There’s a little bit of a stalker aspect to it,” Lenox added.

And “if it’s a really outstanding garden, Cathy won’t say no,” Lenox said. “A lot of people do it because they know it’s a benefit for the children’s museum. … That usually gets people motivated.”

The Nightengale garden “is more of an intimate space,” said Lenox.

Ray Schreiner’s personal garden – his family owns Schreiner’s Iris Gardens just north of town – “is very, very carefully cultivated. That’s sort of the grand finale,” Lenox said.

“It’s just incredible,” Stiles said.

Two Japanese gardens will also be featured. One’s a traditional atmosphere maintained by a Japanese immigrant. The other has more of an American twist, Stiles said.

“The goal is to make sure every garden is somebody’s favorite,” Stiles added.