BANDON -- Jack Hackett has almost 900 rhododendrons, 100 hydrangeas, many azaleas and dozens of other flowering trees and bushes, berries and even lemon, avocado and orange trees on his property north of Bandon. It all makes him happy, but he'd be even happier if others would come out and tour his gardens.
"Shore Acres has nothing on me," Hackett said from his almost 5 acres just north of Bandon on Hull Loop.
Not only does Hackett have more rhodies than Shore Acres, but his garden also has more than twice the flowering trees of the O.H. Hinsdale rhododendron garden on Spruce Reach Island near Reedsport.
Eight years ago, if you'd asked the 75-year-old Hackett if he thought he'd be growing flowers, he would have laughed. But he's always loved rhododendrons and some grew wild on his property, so he went to a local rhododendron society meeting and was hooked.
"I got excited," he said.
He went home and began clearing his property, which was covered with timber, and began collecting and planting rhodies. He continued to go to shows and got involved with the Southwestern Oregon Chapter of the Amercian Rhododendron Society as well as the Coos Bay Garden Club. He ordered rhododendrons from all over the world and also picked them up at local nurseries. He can name most of the varieties and tell you when they bloom. Hackett also began planting hydrangeas and other flowering plants, as well as fruit trees along the property, clearing as he went. The west end of his property is still thick with cedar, fir and pine, which provides a windbreak from the strong coastal winds and creates a micro-climate.
"I took over 200 trees out of here this year," he said. "It was all bad cedar, then I got a chipper and chipped the wood."
Hackett bought a used bucket truck to cut down some of the trees and trim the taller rhododendrons and navigates the property on a golf cart -- fitting, given his proximity to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. He waters the bushes and plants through a drip irrigation system and fertilizes to keep them healthy.
Hackett has lived in Coos County much of his life, growing up in the Millington area of Coos Bay, where his parents owned several properties and a roofing company. He's worked mostly as a local business owner, but also as a cranberry grower in Bandon, among other endeavors. He owned Bay Burger in Empire as well as Davey Jones Locker in Charleston for 16 years. He met his wife Wanda during that time and moved to Bandon. He and Wanda ran Jack's Pizza (formerly Ragtime Pizza, now Brewed Awakenings) and also owed the Bandon Bay Company, located in Old Town.
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A jack of many trades, Hackett also is a builder. He built all the buildings on his property, including their home, shop and many outbuildings. He has a passion for making birdhouses, which he now gives away. He tried selling them once, but people wanted to special order and then he had to make them, which took the fun away.
Wanda supports what he's doing, but doesn't have the passion for it that her husband does.
"Seventy-five percent of the people in the Rhododendron Society are men," Hackett said. "We all work together and support each other. I think it's just the challenge. I just love it."
Tom and Liz Hultin and Bob and Marjene MacIntyre are two other local couples, among others, who also are rhododendron enthusiasts. MacIntyre, who is the most knowledgeable of the group, was former president of the local chapter and is now president of the national chapter of the American Rhododendron Society. He recently attended the annual meeting in Williamsburg, VA.
While there is no overall plan, Hackett just wants to cover most of his property with flowering bushes and trees. It all keeps him busy most days, between taking care of the gardens and attending meetings and functions. He also hosts the annual picnic for the local rhododendron society chapter and other events at his property.
Something is in bloom in his garden all year long. Rhodies bloom through July; then the hydrangeas kick in. Hackett wants to encourage people to come out to tour the property and hopes to publicize his gardens through local businesses.
"I think it could be an attraction for this area someday, if I keep going -- and I will keep going," he said. "I'd like to have something here that everyone can enjoy."
For more information about the Southwestern Oregon Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, those interested can visit http://www.sworegon-ars.org/. Monthly meetings are the third Thursday of the month, with social time at 6:30 p.m., meeting at 7 p.m. at the Coos-Curry Housing Authority, 1700 Monroe Ave., North Bend. Everyone is welcome.