By Megan Kehoe

The Bulletin

The term “beer garden” has a way of conjuring up images of plastic cups, wristbands and concrete sprawl.

But the beer gardens at a few local breweries couldn’t be more different than that. Think abundant wildflowers, plentiful herbs, flavorful greens. And of course, hops, hops and more hops.

“The hops are already huge,” said Lisa Kronwall, Worthy Brewing Co.’s horticulturist. “They’re already two months ahead of where they were last year.”

A couple of Bend breweries’ gardens have gotten off to a fast and furious start this spring. Worthy’s hops garden and greenhouse is in its second growing season.

“One of the goals when they built Worthy was to have locally sourced ingredients used in restaurant,” Kronwall said. “It’s not the easiest thing to do, but Worthy’s one of the forerunners in the area for it.”

The greenhouse, which contains kale, cucumber, basil, rosemary and hops, among other plants, recently had a new hydroponic system installed to speed up plant growth and protect greens from pests. Plants in the system grow without soil and are harvested twice a week.

Though the garden isn’t yet big enough to supply all of Worthy’s kitchen greens — Kronwall grew tomatoes last year, she said, and the kitchen went through them almost immediately — the garden is expanding.

“When we first started, there were a lot of kinks to work out,” Kronwall said. “But now we have it pretty dialed in.”

Additionally, both the greenhouse and the quarter-acre outdoor garden abound with hops. The garden, which teems with experimental Northwest hops varieties, is now in full bloom, with plants growing inches each day. Left to their own devices, the hops will sprawl out onto the ground, so Kronwall constantly tends to the plants, wrapping them clockwise around metal poles so they’ll grow upwards.

This year, Kronwall said she top-dressed the plants with manure, and their growth has “exploded,” she said.

“Everything here is an experiment,” Kronwall said. “It’s fun to be able to show people that they don’t have to do it the way that it’s always been done.”

About five pounds of hops were harvested from the garden last year, she said, and they were used in a small pilot brewing project by Worthy’s brewers. The plants are expected to grow twice as big this year, and Kronwall is creating a time-lapse video of the growth by taking a picture of the gardens daily throughout the spring and summer. She also plans to grow sunflowers and wildflowers around Worthy’s property this year, both for decorative purposes and to divert pests away from the other plants in the garden.

Across town, Deschutes Brewery gardener Maureen Klecker is two years into her own hops experiment. After nearly two dozen years of caring for the brewery’s grounds, growing everything from birch trees to ferns to forget-me-not flowers, she decided to try her hand at growing hops. She removed a stretch of juniper trees bordering the brewery’s parking lot and replaced them with 13 clumps of the Cascade hops variety.

“It used to be a really ugly run of plants in this stretch,” Klecker said on a recent Thursday while tending to the hops. “I tore it out, but I was left with this empty space. Then I thought, ‘Hmm, now what am I going to do with this?’”

The answer soon became apparent.

“I’ve wanted to grow hops for a long time here,” said Klecker. “And it seemed appropriate for the brewery to have hops growing.”

Klecker sourced the plants from a 25-year-old local garden, meaning the hops have acclimated well to the area. She then installed trellises and a wire gate for the plants to cling to as they grow.

“Hops want to grow upwards,” Klecker said. “Their whole joy in life is to grow up toward the sun.”

Even though she’s been a gardener for more than three decades, Klecker said she has been overwhelmed by the tremendous growth of the plants. Last year, they billowed up and over the side of the 4-foot fence. This year, she said, they will double in size.

Though the plants are purely ornamental and most likely won’t ever be used to brew beer, Klecker said they add a little something extra to the brewery’s grounds.

“It’s kind of a ‘beat it back with a stick’ kind of thing,” Klecker said, standing back and admiring the prolific plants. “It’s like a plant on adrenaline. I think of it as a hyperactive child.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0354, .