News Column

Garden spot: Concert series may foretell big things for Ohme Gardens

July 10, 2014

By Jefferson Robbins, The Wenatchee World, Wash.

July 10--WENATCHEE -- Robert Sandidge has a proposal to make new things grow at Ohme Gardens.

The 75-year-old public park plays host to lots of seasonal events -- like the Ohme Gardens Wine and Food Gala, happening Saturday to raise funds for park maintenance and operations. But Sandidge, contracted to stage entertainment at the verdant landmark, hopes to establish a foundation for regular summer music shows there, while also marketing Wenatchee to visitors and raising money for educational charity.

"It's a jewel," says Sandidge, 54, a longtime musician and concert promoter. "So we're working outside a 50-mile radius, trying to bring in tourism, put heads in beds. That's a big push."

In a first step, Sandidge's RLS Productions kicks of the 2014 Summer Concerts in the Gardens series tonight, with jazz player Michael Powers and his band providing the entertainment. Powers and most other performers in the five-date series, which runs largely on Thursday nights through Aug. 7, will play on a temporary stage set up the night before each concert.

As part of a three-year plan, though, Sandidge wants to install foundations for a grander stage that offers the Wenatchee Valley as a backdrop for the audience. A set of sunken pilings would be the only permanent fixtures -- nearly flush to the ground so they could be planted over, Sandidge says. A small gray cap would be the only thing visible.

With those anchors in place, the rigged stage could be put up and taken down in a day. Concertgoers could then enjoy shows with a sweeping view -- much like the Gorge Amphitheatre overlooks the Columbia River cliffs.

"Our agreement is we would go in a day ahead of time and put the stage up, then strike it the following morning, so you wouldn't even be able to tell you were there," Sandidge says.

Blending with the landscape is crucial, to respect the spirit and purpose of Ohme Gardens. Established as a family retreat by Herman and Ruth Ohme in 1929, the engineered alpine meadow high on a rock face soon became a draw for visitors. It was landscaped and planted to resemble a humid Cascade evergreen forest, despite the Wenatchee region's arid environment, and had to be irrigated by hand with trucked-in water during the crucial early years of transplantation.

The Ohmes opened up the nine-acre gardens as a public tour site in 1939, and its ownership was eventually granted to Chelan County, which added a six-foot waterfall to further replicate a Cascade landscape. In 2002, the gardens was profiled by gardening and landscape author Denise Otis in her book "Grounds for Pleasure: Four Centuries of the American Garden."

Sandidge, a drummer, was known for staging rock shows at the Wenatchee Convention Center and other venues from 1993 until 2005, when he set aside show promotions to focus on his family's winery business and obtain a computer science degree.

The return to concert organizing also helps Sandidge give back to the Wenatchee Valley College Foundation, where he holds a board seat. A quarter of net proceeds from the summer shows are earmarked for donation to the nonprofit.

Reach Jefferson Robbins at 509-664-7123 or Follow him on Twitter at @JRobbinsWW.


(c)2014 The Wenatchee World (Wenatchee, Wash.)

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Source: Wenatchee World, The (WA)

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