Throughout many urban locations around the world, botanical gardens appear, offering an escape from the urban surroundings along with an area for education. David Porter, the Executive Director at Leach Botanical Garden, explains that, “conservation of plant species and educating people about the essential need for conservation are two very important elements.” These gardens offer an opportunity for many to explore the outdoors close to their homes.
Leach Botanical Garden is one of a few botanical gardens here in Portland, located right off Forest Road on 122nd Avenue. It is a property of 18 acres. “We are a place where people can experience nature in a safe setting with accessibility for different audiences,” Porter states. This garden is a park under Portland Parks and Recreation but is also run by the non-profit Leach Garden Friends. This organization, run by Porter and a team of eight staff members, has over 100 volunteers working at the garden. The garden is open to the public as well as to anyone interested in renting the space for events. Currently part of the property is under construction, which they hope to complete in the next year.
With trails that cross the Johnson Creek and pass by both a manor house and a small cabin from the original owners, this garden offers an escape from urban life. Kathleen Wendland, a Portland resident who was visiting the garden with her friend Kitzi Dingley, had never heard of the gardens before. “We live here, but Kitzi, the tourist, is the one that found out about this place.” Wendland continues, “we were just saying ‘it’s not growing season but it’s still so beautiful.’” The garden is hidden away and often not known about by the locals. This garden offers an area to explore and learn about the local plants in the area, while also enjoying a nice walk.
The property was originally owned by John and Lilla Leach. After buying it in the early 1930’s, they had the stone cabin built while they started on their manor house. Both the manor house and the cabin are still on the property today. These are available for the public to rent and are also used by the garden for events. When it’s not being used, the house is also open to the public to explore. Many times, this is where you can find staff members or volunteers who are happy to answer questions. John and Lilla Leach lived in the cabin until the manor house was completed in 1936 and then moved into their new home.
John Leach was a pharmacist and his old pharmacy building is still up, though abandoned, on Foster Road and 67th Avenue. Lilla Leach was a botanist, making their home a perfect location for her work. The manor house still has evidence of both John and Lilla’s careers inside. They also left some of their collections for public education. After the death of John Leach in 1972, Lilla moved to a care center, and decided to give away the property. “The Leaches left their home and property as well as their botanical collection to the city with the stipulation that it be a ‘public botanical garden and museum.’ If that had not happened, the property would have gone to the Southeast Portland YMCA,” Porter explains. The property was eventually picked up by the city and, with the help of the non-profit Leach Garden Friends, has become a public park and is open to the public.
“We also provide ‘the landscape of the possible’ where a whole range of learning and experiential activities take place,” Porter explains. This botanical garden is easily accessible, offering a wide array of opportunity for public education. The property was given to the city for that purpose and by the early 1980’s was opened as the botanical garden it is today. Open Tuesday-Sunday, the garden is free to enter with suggested donation. “Many people are not able to go out to the beach, mountains, desert easily —and so the garden provides a microcosmic experience for them,” Porter concludes.