|Spring unfolds at Leach Botanical Garden
STEPHANIE MARIE HATCH
FOR THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
If Leach Botanical Garden sounds familiar, thats probably because youve heard about one of their many community events. The most recent event was the Annual Benefit Spring Plant Sale, which took place on April 21st, in conjunction with over 20 specialty nurseries, at Floyd Light Middle School. Nancy Williams works with Leachs office staff and has helped with this event for the past five years. Months of planning and preparation go into this event. There is even an official pot-washing day to get ready for the sale. Williams said the sale generates great interest from serious gardeners who come to the sale as soon as it opens because they know Leach Botanical Garden can offer unique species of plants that cant be found in your average gardening store.
This unique plant diversity is what makes Leach Botanical Garden such a special place. Upon visiting the garden, one will find many small alcoves with benches that invite the wanderer to sit and listen to the chirping of over 60 species of birds that frequent the garden. Visitors might consider taking a notebook with them as well; the shady setting, serene surroundings, and fresh floral scent of the garden easily inspire one to express their thoughts on paper or perhaps sketch a rare flower. Cedars and Douglas firs tower overhead, and lush ground covers flourish under the dense canopy.
John and Lilla Leach created Leach Botanical Garden in the 1940s. The 15.63-acre property was originally part of a 320-acre land claim donation belonging to sawmill owner Jacob Johnson, a provider of lumber for many of Portlands early homes. Johnsons land extended from Mt. Scott down across the creek that today bears his name. John Leach was a local pharmacist and also a talented craftsman and proficient metalworker (some of his work is on display at the garden). He was active in the Oregon Arts & Crafts Society and served as president.
Lilla Leach was a renowned botanist who discovered five new plant species in her lifetime. One such species was named after her, Kalmiopsis leachiana, and can still be found in the garden. After the Leaches passing, the garden was acquired by the city in 1973 and is maintained and operated by the Portland Parks & Recreation Bureau.
John and Lilla were most interested in the Northwests plant diversity, but collected plants from around the country that would thrive in Oregons temperate climate. The Leach Collection is comprised of ferns, rhododendrons, azaleas, witch-hazel, bamboo and ground covers that thrive in the shade.
The staff has worked to maintain the original collection. However, they have also worked to enhance it by taking part in an international seed exchange program. Garden staff track from seed every plant they have, giving each germinated plant an identification number that is entered into a computer for scientific studies and that will stay with the plant whether it is put into the garden or sold to the public. Because of these rigorous standards of identification and plant study, garden staff are able to monitor, collect, and process seeds from the garden. The seeds can then be cleaned, indexed, stored and eventually traded with other participating botanical gardens, arboreta and universities around the world.
When asked about the impact the garden has on the community, Williams emphasized the importance of the global community the garden is able to reach through the seed exchange program. There is an intellectual exchange that goes on with other gardens. Garden staff are able to take the love, care, and diversity of their gardening endeavors and send them out to a huge community. She mentioned that they exchange seeds with places as far away and unexpected as Sweden and Poland.
Scotty Fairchild, Leachs garden steward, talked about the delights and surprises that the garden can offer. Learning curves go through some plateaus [when working in a garden], but they always go back up. Youre always learning something, Fairchild said when commenting on working at the garden for more than a decade.
Fairchild used to sail ships in the tropics for 11 years. When he came to the garden, he wasnt planning on staying for very long; however, one year passed, and then another. Before Fairchild knew it, 16 years had passed, and he is learning new lessons with every season.
Fairchild said that one of the nice things about being in a garden for so long is that you get to know its secrets and habits. A pair of hawks that have been nesting at the garden for seven years can be heard in the towering Douglas firs. You can hear the hawks calling to one another for about a month while they choose a nesting spot. When their young hatch, thats when it gets really loud; you can hear them squawking for food until they fledge and are able to go off on their own. Fairchild appreciates this as one of many cycles that nature teaches us.
These unavoidable cycles make Leach Botanical Garden a year-round treat. It is not just a spot to fancy in the springtime. Fairchild and Williams both said that January and February are some of the most beautiful months to visit. There are more plants coming into bloom then than there are in June or July.
Information on classes, workshops and special events can be found on the gardens extensive Web site, www.leachgarden.org.
Accomplished and aspiring gardeners should be sure to make it to Open Nursery Sales. Starting in May on the first and third Saturdays of each month through September, the garden will make choice plants available for sale to the public from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Volunteers and garden staff will be on hand to answer questions.
Leach Botanical Garden is open Tuesday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information about Leach Botanical Garden, call 503-823-9503.
The serenity and natural beauty discovered at Leach Botanical Garden will rejuvenate even the weariest of spirits. Stroll the diverging pathways around the Manor House and you may find yourself reflecting upon the words of Robert Frost, taking the path less traveled by.
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