Catching up with the Leach
Sunday, November 15, 2020
I haven't been to the Leach Botanical Garden in Portland for a while since almost half of the grounds have been under renovation for the last couple of years. With the end in sight for Fall 2020,
I decided to check out the progress last Sunday. I'm happy to report that it's almost there and looking very good! It was fun to see the new board walk arching through the tall trees wearing their fall finery high overhead, even if it isn't open yet, and the huge battalion of potted plants massed in their thousands waiting to spring into action. Except for the outdoor patios, the house is still off limits because of the pandemic but you can meander along the one-way paths on the rest of grounds that aren't under renovation. There was even a fuchsia to meet me on the front patio. Fuchsia magellanica 'Gracilis' to be sure.
In case you're unfamiliar with it, the Leach Botanical Garden is a small, sixteen-acre (6.5 ha) botanical garden on a ravine along Johnson Creek, at the outer edge of southeast Portland, Oregon. The garden was originally established in 1931 surrounding the summer home of botanist Lilla Irvine Leach (1886-1980) and her husband, the successful local pharmacist and drugstore owner, John Leach. The Leach's house and grounds were donated to the city after Lilla Leach's death in 1980 and acquired by the Portland Parks Bureau.
Originally dubbed Sleepy Hollow, the Leaches built a cottage-style "Manor House" on the grounds in 1936. They lived in another small stone cottage on the property near Johnson Creek during the summer while their house was under construction. Lilla Leach herself was a botanist who spent her career on the native plants of the Pacific Northwest and West Coast of the United States. She was most focused on the native plants of her own native Oregon. Along with their two burros, Pansy and Violet, the couple both spent many years of adventure botanizing together in the PNW wilderness, though. John Leach died in 1972 but his wife continued to live at Sleepy Hollow until mobility issues necessitated moving into a care center.
Their private botanical garden nearly escaped becoming a public reality. In their wills, the Leaches stated that the house and property were to be given to the City of Portland as a botanical park and museum.
However, if the City didn't take action within 10 years, the property was to be turned over to the YMCA, of which John Leach had been a big supporter. Despite numerous pleas, Portland almost passed on the bequest until Commissioner of Parks Charles Jordan thought that he should at least take a look at the property before he signed the papers releasing it to the YMCA. Fortunately, he did visit and reportedly found it a "little jewel" that the city just couldn't let go.
I'm looking forward to seeing the garden again in the spring after all the plants have gone in and have started to grow. And then again and again to watch them mature.
➤ The Leach Botanical Garden