Portland, OR, is a favorite place for summer tourists – and a gardener’s paradise. So if you’re visiting the area, the logical thing to do is see some of Portland’s fantastic gardens. Here are some of the best:
The International Rose Test Garden in Portland’s Washington Park is a “heaven-scent” place to take a stroll.
Photo Credit: Lane Greer
The views aren’t just great inside the Japanese Garden – peer east for a beautiful look at downtown Portland and Mt. Hood.
Photo Credit: Lane Greer
Berry Botanic Garden is known for its terrific trough containers and rock gardens.
Photo Credit: Lane Greer
Washington Park is not your typical urban oasis. It’s located in northwest Portland and encompasses 130 acres. Inside the park are Hoyt Arboretum, the International Rose Test Garden and the Japanese Garden.
Hoyt Arboretum can’t be missed for its amazing plant collections – in fact, the magnolia collection is the best I’ve ever seen. They also have large hawthorn, cherry, dogwood and conifer collections (among others). Most are grouped so you can see a wide variety of plants in one spot. The show actually starts right in the parking lot of the visitor’s center, where you can find members of the citrus family, and just to the right is the holly collection. At another parking area are numerous representatives of the witchhazel family. But don’t spend all your time admiring the view in the parking lot – there’s so much to see beyond your car!
Knowing that Portland is the City of Roses, it’s certainly fitting that Washington Park is home to the International Rose Test Garden. With almost 7,000 plants and over 550 cultivars, there are almost too many roses to see in one day. During Portland’s Rose Festival in June, the best new roses are selected for awards at the Annual Spring Rose Show, an event that’s been going on for more than 120 years.
Washington Park’s Japanese Garden offers some of the best landscaping of its kind. In fact, on a visit to Portland, the Japanese ambassador thought it the best in the country. In my opinion, the garden is at its best in early spring and late fall. My favorite area is the Strolling Pond Garden, which is also the largest part of this 5½-acre garden.
Leach Botanical Garden, in southeast Portland, is a woodland area that preserves the original plant collection of Lila and John Leach. Lila, a botanist, discovered five plant species, the most well-known of which is Kalmiopsis leachiana (named after her). The garden’s focus is on native plants of the US, both from the Northwest and the Southeast.
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, also in the city’s southeast, presents a peaceful setting with hundreds of rhododendrons around a small lake. While the garden is most colorful in spring, there are other choice plants. I was surprised to discover a Franklinia hidden away in a shrub border, for instance. This is also a favorite spot for bird-watchers. (Crystal Springs is close to Reed College, which also has some interesting trees on its campus – including huge ginkgos and London plane trees.)
If you’re looking for some more Asian-inspired landscaping, a visit to the Portland Classical Chinese Garden is a must. This lovely area has some awesome plants, and the entire garden only takes up a city block – making it a great place to go if your feet hurt. The garden really glows in spring, but I think it’s good to visit year-round. There’s a lake, waterfall, teahouse and gift shop.
For a hidden treasure, visit Berry Botanic Garden. It’s located in an upscale neighborhood, and there are no highway or road signs to point you in the right direction – so it’s almost like discovering a secret garden. If you like dwarf and alpine plants, don’t miss the Berry’s awesome rock and trough gardens. There are also magnificent rhododendrons and natives like inside-out flower (Vancouveria). Berry also offers wonderful classes and walks. Some of the more recent classes have focused on rain gardens and drip irrigation. You need to call ahead to make an appointment, but it’s worth the effort.
Less than a mile away is another fabulous Portland garden secret: Bishop’s Close. It’s only a few acres in size, but there are lots of great plants packed in there. It also has a magnificent magnolia collection, as well as lots of natives, cherries, witchhazels, viburnum, roses and thousands of blooming bulbs come spring. You can also find some unusual specimens, like Hydrangea sargentiana, Osmanthus × burkwoodii, Davidia involucrata, Berberis darwinii, Actinidia kolomikta, mountain laurel, hebes…I could go on and on. And don’t miss the rock garden, lily pond and a great view of Mt. Hood!
You can imagine why gardeners will never tire of visiting Portland – now see for yourself! In fact, with so many wonderful plants to admire, I’m sometimes surprised that those of us living here get anything done.