Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Visit to Portland's Best Kept Secret Garden

On an overcast October morning, my friend Diane and I took a stroll through Leach Botanical Garden, guided by Head Gardener Scott Hoelscher, Executive Director David Porter, and Board President Gay Greger. The 16-acre garden is located at 6704 SE 122nd Avenue, just a little south of Foster Road.
Gravel crunched underfoot as we navigated paths winding up and down the hillsides. Shaded by the canopy of enormous conifers, unusual shrubs and lush ferns flourished in the the understory. A pool of delicate Himalayan maidenhair ferns made a big swathe of lacy green, arching like a green cascade, while a colony of robust male ferns spread spread their wide, feathery fronds.
Climbing the gentle slope, we inhaled the aroma of cotton candy wafting from a stately katsura tree in its full autumn glory, golden leaves shimmering in the misty morning air. Scott pointed out several shrubs that will bloom later on in winter, especially evergreen Mahonia confusa, with blue-green foliage and yellow flowers, and Mahonia gracilipes, with red flowers. Sweet box (Sarcococca) had already set buds for fragrant winter blossoms. An bold-leaved paper bush (Edgworthia) will bear silky buds and yellow flowers in just a few months.
We continued to a recently expanded addition to the Rock Garden, where numerous new plants were marked with white flags. A tapestry of low-growing perennials covered the more established part of the Rock Garden. A silver-leaved California fuchsia (Epilobium canum), smothered with bright orange flowers, warmed up the picture.
As in most gardens tended by passionate gardeners, change is constant. A large sweep of Aucuba had recently been recycled to make room for more interesting species Rhododendrons.
“We’re trying to get rid of over-represented plants,” Scott explained. “We’re also getting rid of all the ivy.” The original garden owners, John and Lilla Leach, had collected over thirty varieties of ivy.
We came upon colonies of broad-leaved hart’s tongue ferns growing happily in the crevices of old, moss-covered retaining walls built of recycled concrete. On the slopes, newly planted chain ferns (Woodwardia) were settling in along with tree ferns (Dicksonia).
As we descended the stairs to the riparian area, David and I talked about the continuous process of change and refinement that creative gardeners undertake. He summed it up well.
“Since the mind never rests, the garden never rests,” he said. “Our gardens never stop changing because they really are the product of our minds, which are constantly imagining and creating.”
Approaching its 30th anniversary, Leach Botanical Garden is in the midst of many creative changes. A Master Plan will address development of the Upper Garden’s landscape, where two meadows await the imagination of a design group. This past summer’s oversize tent became the venue for Leach Garden Arts, attracting many new visitors. New classes will be dreamt up, and more collaboration with local artists is in the works.
Coming soon is the fabulous Holiday Bazaar, where wreaths, swags, table centerpieces and greens will be available for modest prices. Volunteers are needed to help create these goodies, during the week after Thanksgiving. To learn more, or volunteer, contact 503-823-1671 or Close to 100 volunteers help maintain this public garden, and many more are needed.