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.
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!
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.
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.
And that is your Portland history lesson for today!