The Northwest is known for big trees, mountain wildflowers, spectacular coastlines, and high desert landscapes punctuated by endless skies. From the lushness of Portland and the Willamette Valley to the sparseness of the High Desert, Oregon is bursting with floral color throughout the year. In Oregon, botanical parks, arboretums, and gardens highlight the beauty of plants native to the region, as well as those from outside the United States that grow well in the Northwest climate. Though the list of these sites is extensive, here are eight great botanical gardens that showcase the floral beauty of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.
The Oregon Gardens
An 82-acre setting near Silverton, Oregon, The Oregon Gardens explores all that the Beaver State has to offer anyone attracted to floral design. There are over 20 specialty gardens including the Lewis and Clark Garden, Medicinal Garden, and Pet-Friendly Garden. The area also features the Frank Lloyd Wright Gordon House, designed in 1957 and moved to the Garden in 2002.
From 1804-07, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the Corps of Discovery Expedition into the unknown landscape of the American West. Over the course of their 8,000-mile journey, the adventurers not only documented routes for future emigrants, water and soil conditions for settlement, and investigated a Northwest Passage route, but also gathered plant and animal specimens that were new to science. The Oregon Gardens’ Lewis and Clark Garden highlights their botanical discoveries with interpretive panels and labeled plants.
The Medicinal Garden features plants of medicinal value that grow in Oregon while the Northwest Garden’s beds are flush with hardy Northwest landscaping plants from around the world. There’s even a Pet-Friendly Garden that incorporates landscape ideas for pet owners, as well as providing information about pet-safe plants.
Schreiner’s Iris Garden
Located in Salem, Oregon, the historic iris display garden is open to the public throughout the month of May. In 1925, F.X. Schreiner was a serious collector of irises, many of which were imported from Europe. Along with his son Bob, they had over 500 species growing on a acre of land in Minnesota. By 1928, F.X. published his first catalog, a black-and-white price list without images.
Before F.X.’s death in 1931, he offered his three children some advice: if they were to pursue the iris-growing business, move to a more favorable climate and that if the three children could get along, the business had a huge chance of success. After a few moves, the business settled near Salem, Oregon in 1947, where it has been for the last 72 years. Gardeners, artists, and photographers can enjoy the wide variety of irises on display and special events throughout the month.
Lan Su Chinese Garden
Portland and its sister city, Suzhou, China, created a beautiful garden of plants native to China. The Lan Su Chinese Garden translates to “Garden of Awakening Orchids,” and offers a tranquil blending or art and nature. Tours, a teahouse, and special events are other attractions at this captivating site in downtown Portland.
Shore Acres State Park
Situated along the Pacific Ocean near Coos Bay, Oregon, Shore Acres State Park features a mixture of native and horticultural gardens. The former estate of timber baron Louis Simpson, lush gardens are set amongst wild Douglas firs, Sitka spruce, shore pines, and a huge Monterey pine planted around 1910 and shares the title on the Big Tree Registry with another Monterey pine from Carmel, California.
No matter the season, there is something in color. Springtime features thousands of colorful tulips and during the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, thousands of colored lights illuminate the gardens during the Holiday Lights. There is a Japanese-style garden, rose gardens featuring All American Rose Selections, other formal gardens, trails, picnic areas, and tidepools to keep the whole family interested. When you're done with the gardens head down to the beach to see migrating whales, sea lions, and spectacular winter waves crashing into the rocky headlands.
Leach Botanical Garden
Small in stature, but huge in heart, the Leach Botanical Garden is represents a lifetime of work from John and Lilla Leach. Gardeners, botanists, horticulturalists, and those just interested in a tranquil setting, will all find something of interest between the extensive gardens and the educational library open to the public or the fairy-tale like cottage where the Leaches lived.
The botanical garden is located on one of the early homesteads in Portland, settled in the 1850's. The Leach’s eventually purchased 4.5 acres of the original 320-acre homestead in 1931 and named their domain “Sleepy Hollow.” John was a pharmacist and his wife, Lilla, a botanist. Together, with their burros Pansy and Violet, the pair explored much of Oregon, botanizing on trips to the Wallowa and Klamath Mountains. Lilla discovered two genera new to science and more than a dozen species. Civic minded, the couple were involved with getting local roads paved and community buildings built and allowing local organizations such as the Boy Scouts and YMCA organizers to meet in John’s drugstore’s back room. The Leaches lived at Sleepy Hollow until John’s death in 1972.
Their wills specified that their property to be donated to the City of Portland as a museum and botanical park. If the City wasn’t interested, then the land would go to the local YMCA. A strong grassroots effort began in 1981 after Lilla’s death in 1980 and the Leach Garden Friends organization was born and eventually convinced the City to obtain the property. Today, this special place is managed and open to the public, its peaceful setting within the confines of Portland.
Swan Island Dahlia
During the later part of summer, the fields at the Swan Island Dahlia farm erupt with color and form. Located in Canby, the nursery is named after the original location of the farm near Portland on Swan Island. The company has been in business for over 91 years and at their present location for almost 70 years. Their annual Dahlia Festival is held during Labor Day weekend and the weekend prior when the gardens are at their peak. Special events, sales, and dahlia-centered activities are the highlights of these weekends. Wander the rows of dahlias and don't forget a camera!
Beekman Native Plant Arboretum
Located in southern Oregon in the town of Josephine, the Beekman Native Plant Arboretum is a three-acre preserve. Named for pioneer Cornelius Beekman, the arboretum features native plants of the Cascades and Siskiyou mountains. The unique assemblage of plants found in the serpentine soils of the Siskiyou and Klamath mountains is one of the unique features of this arboretum located near the historic Beekman House and managed by the Jackson Woodlands Association.
Mount Pisgah Arboretum
This 209-acre arboretum and botanical garden located near Eugene preserves native habitats such as riparian meadows and lowland evergreen woodlands with Douglas-fir and incense-cedar. Though once designed to include plants from around the world, the arboretum is now a sanctuary for native plants including a patch of rare Oregon oak savannah. In addition to the plants, the area is a popular spot for birdwatchers and hikers.
During the spring, the Friends of Mount Pisgah Arboretum host a wildflower show complete with special festivals that feature spring wildflowers and fall fungi. Other educational programs are held throughout the season, for more information visit their website.
These are just a few of the many locations to witness the spectacular floral displays of Oregon plants or those introduced into the Northwest. A wide variety of plant zones cover the state and so there is something for everyone!