Leach Botanical Gardens, in outer Southeast Portland, has been a well-kept secret for many years. But recently, the park underwent a major transformation featuring aerial walkways amidst towering evergreens, a new “pollinator” garden, and many other upgrades.
The park was originally a residence, and clearly a refuge, built and curated by John and Lilla (Irvin) Leach, he a druggist, she a botanist, both avid naturalists and early members of the Mazamas. Lilla became an award winning botanist, identifying 5 new plant species and over the years developed an amazing array of botanical wonders in their multi-level gardens nestled along the banks and cliffsides of Johnson Creek. The above photo is their residence, “Manor House”, which they built in 1936 after first residing in a lovely stone cabin on the other side of the creek. Upon their deaths (John in the early 1970’s and Lilla in 1980), they deeded the property to the City of Portland to be used as a city park and botanical museum, but it took several decades after that for the city to finally recognize and invest in this amazing treasure.
The route to this destination can be done completely on Portland’s bikeways – an amalgam of neighborhood greenways and streets with bike lanes. All of the bikeways routes are marked with periodic signage to help you navigate, but fortunately I looked closely at my interactive Portland bike map and plotted my course before venturing out.
My route took me from Mt. Tabor, down Mill Street with a jog over to Market, continuing east until turning south on 130th. From there, the challenge is crossing the busy and bike unfriendly intersections at Division and Powell, but these crossings have been improved with some safety features. The route continues south jogging amongst 130th, 129th and 128th, until finally reaching Foster Road, which has no bike safety infrastructure other than perilous bike lanes strewn with parked cars and trash. So, once I hit Foster I proceeded the few blocks on the sidewalks until the turn off at 122nd which leads to the park. Other than a few minor hills along the way, the route was completely flat. Round trip is about 15 miles. I encountered no cyclists on my way out, and only three on my way back. As it was a beautiful sunny Saturday, the lack of cyclists makes me think that these bikeways are pretty underutilized. And, as is often the case with Portland’s bikeways, many of the road surfaces were potholed and there was still much winter debris to navigate – downed branches from this winter’s record-breaking ice storm as well as a lot of gravel which made me glad to be riding the ALAN with its micro-knobbies. Still, any kind of bike would handle this journey just fine.
I’ve visited the gardens many times before, but today I could only stay briefly. Below are photos from today’s visit and from previous excursions, for your enjoyment.
If you decide to visit the gardens, be aware that with these new improvements, the city will begin charging an admission fee next year. For now, they are encouraging “reservations”, but I arrived without one, and that presented no problem. For those of you who live here or are planning a visit, I hope you have a chance to take in this awe-inspiring experience.