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Pick me up

GOLD HILL — A half acre of zinnias planted along the frontage of Highway 99 at Del Rio Vineyards did more than add some color near the entrance to the historic property this summer.

The Del Rio U-Pick "Flower it Forward" saved a marriage, charmed teachers and brought joy to the sick, sad and injured.

While Del Rio owner Jolee Wallace knew the garden near the north end of town would bring smiles, she said she never anticipated the stories that would be shared.

"We have people every single day, picking the flowers. It's been the coolest thing. One of the best parts is that, halfway through, we put a book out there so people could write little notes in it," Wallace said.

"One guy wrote "You saved my marriage!'"

Wallace said she got the idea for the U-Pick from a fellow farmer, Mark Mezger of Yoko, Calif., who also planted zinnias in one of his fields.

The concept? Pick a bouquet for yourself, then pick one for someone going through a rough time or who might, Wallace said, simply need to get flowers.

The flower planting just adjacent to the parking lot had been used to grow peaches and filberts when the property was still an orchard, but had been fallow for nearly two decades.

Wallace's husband and co-owner of the vineyards, Rob Wallace, drilled a well to supply water and set up a drip system for the flowers while vineyard employees pitched in to help with planting, weeding and thinning the plants.

Grants Pass resident Evon Webster gathered some flowers on Thursday for a friend who had recently had surgery.

"It's awesome. I mean, I grow flowers. But not enough to have rows and rows where you can actually pick a whole bouquet. I love this so much," Webster said.

"I started hiking here because I saw it on their Facebook page. Then, my first hike, somebody said, 'Did you get flowers?' So now, after every hike, I pick some flowers for someone who might need them."

Websters hiking partner, Nancy Wilson of Grants Pass, said when she realized the garden's "pay it forward" concept, she couldn't help but smile.

"It's just wonderful. We have a little antique store in Grants Pass. One lady there is 82 — she's getting some — and another one just had back surgery so she's getting the other one. It's like the movie — it made me cry when I first saw it."

Jolee Wallace said the pay it forward notions were her favorite part of the garden, too.

"One man came out and said his daughter died when she was 16, in a car accident. She would have been 46, so he was taking flowers to the cemetery," Wallace said, noting that the flowers were as much for the dad as the daughter.

"We have ladies who pick flowers for the people out at the VA hospital. We had a truck driver pull up with his big double tankers and he got out and was picking a bouquet for his wife. We have school children picking flowers for the teachers. It's just so touching. I think we've gotten more out of it than we ever expected."

Having gone through over 100 vases — some donated and some purchased at second-hand stores, Wallace didn't bat an eye when asked if the garden would return next year.

"Absolutely," she said. "How can we not?"

On Thursday, Medford mom Allison Burns and her 9-year-old son picked some zinnias for an aunt with a newborn baby.

"My aunt just had a baby so she really needs flowers," said the boy.

Burns said she and her son had been regular visitors to the garden since it opened.

"We found out about this just after it opened, so we have come out pretty regularly to do this. We're kind of hooked. We've given flowers to neighbors and teachers and taken some to church with us," Burns said. "It's so great they did something like this. It has spread so much joy for the recipients and the givers who are able to come out and do this. It's such a positive, happy thing to be able to enjoy picking such beautiful flowers."

Wallace estimates the garden will last into early to mid-October, or until the first freeze. Flower pickers are encouraged to bring their own vases or buckets — some are provided, but the supply runs out regularly — and to return shears and sign the book. Vase or cash donations to replant the garden are also accepted.

Visit online for garden info and for a schedule of Wednesday and Sunday hikes.

On the web, www.delriovineyards.com.

— Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com

Nancy Wilson, left, of Merlyn, and Evon Webster, of Grants Pass, pick flowers for a friend at Del Rio Vineyards free U-pick flowers on Wednesday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch