Leach Botanical Garden

Dear Liza,

Pathway through the Garden

On Saturday, Grandpa Nelson had a surprise for me. He took me to see a garden in the city that I had never even heard of, the Leach Botanical garden in the far southeast, just off of Foster Road and 122nd Avenue.

When a park has someone’s name on it, you think: Who was this person? Why is there a park in their honor? In the case of Leach Botanical Garden, there’s an easy, delightful answer. This 16 acre garden was their garden, and the house on the property was their house! The garden was their gift to the city.img_0625.jpg

But of course it’s never that easy.

John and Lila Leach were married in 1913 and were an unusual couple for their time. He was a pharmacist and businessman, and she was a scientist, studying botany and teaching science at Eugene High School. They belonged to a group called the Mazamas who hiked, camped, and skied in the Oregon wilderness. On their trips, Lila discovered two new genera of plants that had never been seen before!

Delightfully threatening skies

In the 1930s they bought 16 acres of land on Johnson Creek and built a small stone cabin. They hired a landscape architect to help lay out the steeply sloping property, and began putting in plants. They named the property Sleepy Hollow.

When World War II started, Lila volunteered with the Red Cross, and after the war, the two were active in supporting the YMCA and the Boy Scouts. They worked in the garden and lived in the larger house they built later until John passed away in 1972. Lila moved to a care facility in Lake Oswego and passed in 1982. Their ashes were spread in the Oregon wilderness they loved so much.

Well loved dinosaur!

In their wills, they both had stated that the house and property was to be given to the City of Portland. But after ten years of typical civic squabbling, the city was ready to let the property go to developers when Parks Commissioner Jordan went to visit the garden and decided it was too precious. It was developed and is maintained by a combination of public and private funding.

It hosts weddings, parties, composting classes, children’s activities, and seedling sales. You can learn more at Leachgarden.org.

Fall colors in the garden

And that is your Portland history lesson for today!


Grandma Judy

Sunnyside in Summer

Dear Liza,

Shasta Daisies

Our neighborhood is so pretty!

So far, I have gotten to be here in the spring (for just a week), and the summer (for two months) and the trees and bushes keep changing and growing.

In the spring it was very wet and cool, with only the blooms of azaleas and rhododendrons making big wads of color amid the dark and damp. It seemed like the wet dirt was napping, just waiting for sunshine.

Laurelhurst in March

And it’s a good thing the ground was so damp, because we haven’t had rain for two months, except for a short, dramatic thunderstorm. The larger trees are doing well without help, but we see a lot of people out watering their gardens to make sure the plants stay healthy.  Summers weren’t always this dry, but because of climate change we are seeing more drought conditions here.

Over at Sunnyside Environmental School, there are watering crews that come in once a week. They have even made signs which crack me up!


This part of town also has lots of food growing. There are apple trees weighted down with fruit and even grapes hanging on fences.

Baby Grapes

I love sharing my new city with you. I hope your new year at school goes well.


Grandma Judy

Lettuce Turnip the Beet!

Neighborhood Clearing

Dear Liza,

Every time I go out into the neighborhood, I see new things. The falling leaves are allowing more details to show.

For example, garden decorations that have been covered by overgrown trees and bushes are coming into view. This retaining wall for a house down by Hawthorne Street shows its decoration of old doorknobs, but only when the ferns die back in fall.

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Door knob decoration

This obelisk has been covered by one rosebush, which has now been cut back to just a few twigs for the winter, revealing the lovely sculpture.

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Garden Obelisk

Of course, leaf clearing and collection continues. This pile that was taller than you was waiting to be scooped up down by Laurelhurst Park. Inside the park, small trucks drive down the paved paths and blow the leaves onto the grass areas, where they are vacuumed up later. This is good, because the paths get really slippery and dangerous where the leaves sit and start to rot.

Also inside Laurelhurst, the workers are putting in net tubes filled with wood chips. These help keep the ground from washing away on hillsides. This series of tubes was put just below the off leash dog area, where there is a bit of a creek flowing during heavy rains.

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Erosion protection
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More leaves

The other day I saw my first sinkhole! A sinkhole is what happens when the ground underneath a street gets washed away, so the asphalt has nothing to sit on, and starts to collapse. This one was in the middle of the Washington Street and 27th intersection, marked by orange cones so no one would drive over or fall in!

Life just keeps getting more interesting up here.See you in January!


Grandma Judy

sinkhole .jpg

Faeries in Portland

Dear Liza,

I have told you how much fun it is living in Portland. I have told you about the plastic flamingos that go on camping trips and the silent dance parties in the park. But I haven’t mentioned the Faeries.

Flamingos out camping

First, there is a shop called Fernie Brae, not far from us on Hawthorne Street. It is a combination of art gallery, museum, and shop, all about faeries. Tiny pictures, statues, jewelry, and plants all take you inside a special, delicate world. Cousin Kestrel had part of her birthday here. There were tiny keys to open tiny doors and find magical gifts. She and Jasper enjoyed it very much.



Inside Fernie Brae Photo credit: Morgana Krinsley

Then there are the regular gardens that people make to enjoy. These gardens are regular people sized, but have fishponds, tiny lights, and mosaic paths through them. There are also statues of frogs, flamingos, and all sorts of animals. Birdhouses and even bat houses make the animals feel welcome. Many of the trees are so old, there are hollow places in them that look exactly like faeries would live there. Moss growing on all the walls feels like faerie carpet.

Person sized Garden

But some people seem to want the faeries to feel even more at home. They build tiny gardens that are faerie sized within their own people sized gardens. These have tiny gates, benches, plants, even houses. There may be stepping stones the size of bottle caps.Whenever I see one, I want to make myself very small and go visiting!


Grandma Judy

Faerie Garden in a person’s yard