Wisteria floribunda

Ah, Portland – Oregon’s mecca for gardeners. Known as the City of Roses, Portland offers many temptations for people with green thumbs. If you’re into gardening and haven’t visited yet, what are you waiting for?! While there are many places to go and sites to see, one of the most spectacular is Bishop’s Close. It draws gardeners from all over!

Japanese Magnolia

This Japanese magnolia is just one of the 35 species at Bishop’s Close.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer


Rhododendrons abound at Bishop’s Close.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer


Be sure to look for this hillside planting of white fawn lily. It’s a Northwest native.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Officially named the Elk Rock Gardens of the Bishop’s Close, the gardens are located in the upper-crust Dunthorpe area. The view’s simply gorgeous. Bishop’s Close sits on a bluff overlooking the Willamette River with an awesome view of Mount Hood. But you have to remember to look up – the plants are just that captivating.

I’m a woody plant lover, so I pay attention to trees and shrubs. The wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) by the parking lot will take your breath away! Around the house and chapel, be sure to look for the handkerchief or dove tree (Davidia involucrata). This plant inspired two trips to China just to find it. Nearby is a large Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica). It has great brown-red flowers in early spring. There’s also spiketail (Stachyurus praecox), with its long chains of yellow flowers. Along the Cliff Cottage Walk, don’t miss the peeling bark of the tall stewartia (Stewartia monadelpha) and several winter-blooming fragrant viburnums (Viburnum grandiflorum) and winter hazel (Corylopsis pauciflora).

If you go in February, keep your eye out for the witch hazels (Hamamelis) in bloom in the parterres above the parking lot. (Just take a walk through the rock garden to see them.) In early spring, the orange flowers of Darwin’s barberry (Berberis darwinii) create a riot of color – you can almost hear it! Be sure to take a trip out to The Point then, too. It’s at the tip of the 6-acre garden, and that’s where you’ll find at least three types of fawn lily (Erythronium).

If you’re a magnolia fan, the Bishop’s Close collection is a must-see – it has 35 species! My favorite is Watson’s magnolia (Magnolia watsonii). Its flowers are more fragrant than perfume!

Interested in water gardens? There are two ponds: a rock-lined lily pond with a huge colony of newts, and a larger pond surrounded by everything from rhododendrons (Rhododendron) to dogwoods (Cornus). This is where you can find one of my favorite plants – edgeworthia (Edgeworthia). This neat plant has downward-facing flowers that bloom very early in spring.

So, if you’re planning a visit to Portland (and who wouldn’t want to?), don’t miss Bishop’s Close. There are rare plants in bloom year-round, no crowds – and you can’t beat the view!