Tuesday, July 7, 2020
July 7, 2020

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Gardens in Clark County, Portland offer respite during trying times

Here are 4 free places of beauty where you can commune with nature

By , Columbian News Assistant
9 Photos
Helenium autumnale, also known as sneezeweed, grows at the Brush Prairie Wildlife Botanical Gardens.
Helenium autumnale, also known as sneezeweed, grows at the Brush Prairie Wildlife Botanical Gardens. (Columbian files) Photo Gallery

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need,” said the Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero. With even public libraries now closed, gardens are a timeless refuge.

Here are some local gardens worth visiting that will soothe your soul with well-tended beauty. You might want to check with the gardens before heading out. The Portland Japanese Garden isn’t on this list because the managers decided earlier this week to close.

While you walk the trails and admire the flora, you may notice that other people have the same idea. Keep to the recommended 6 feet of distance from other visitors and instead employ a smile to express solidarity with your fellow nature lovers. If there are too many other visitors, be safe and come back another time; there may be many weeks ahead when we’ll need the comfort of a garden.

Close to home, there’s Wildlife Botanical Gardens, 11000 N.E. 149th St., Brush Prairie, next to the Center for Agriculture, Science, and Environmental Education. The gardens are open every day from dawn to dusk and there is no admission fee. Just park in the adjacent lot and wander in whenever you need a mental lift.

The gardens, created in partnership with NatureScaping of Southwest Washington, are actually many separate, smaller gardens connected by walking paths, each with the object of demonstrating ways to draw birds, beneficial insects and other wild animals — think bunnies as opposed to bears — into your backyard.

The individual gardens are listed at naturescaping.org, with descriptions and photographs to entice you to come see for yourself. Gardens include the informal, country-style Cottage Garden; the Flying Flowers Garden featuring flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds; and the Northwest Bird Haven garden with plants that provide food and shelter for local birds.

Next, check out Portland’s hidden gem: Leach Botanical Garden, 6704 S.E. 122nd Ave. in Southeast Portland. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. It’s free to visit, although donations are welcome to support the garden at leachgarden.org. Pets are not allowed because some of the plants are very delicate or rare and wouldn’t survive a friendly sniffing or trampling.

Park in the lot on 122nd Avenue, walk across the bridge and through the main entrance near the Manor House, the former home of the garden’s founders, John and Lilla Leach, a pharmacist and botanist who began creating the garden in the 1930s. Now the garden’s meadows, glens and hillsides are home to 2,000 plant species.

A large part of the garden’s total acreage is under construction, part of a long-planned expansion and enhancement, but there’s still plenty to see. Find a map on the website with suggested walking routes, winding through the Riparian Gardens, showcasing water-loving plants that grow near creeks and ponds; the Rock Gardens, highlighting succulents and plants that thrive in rocky soil; and the Leach Collection, featuring unusual plants, some cultivated by Lilla Leach herself. The trail along Johnson Creek is particularly soothing, with sun-dappled water flowing under pine boughs, past towering rhododendrons and abundant ferns. Be sure your ramblings take you past the moss-covered, fairy-tale-like Stone Cabin, where the Leaches lived before the Manor House was built.

Another place to visit on your self-guided Quarantine Garden Tour is The Grotto, thegrotto.org, a two-level, 62-acre garden operated by the Catholic Order of the Servants of Mary at 8840 N.E. Skidmore St. in Portland. Many people come here for the spectacular holiday light display and musical performances, but the garden is even more compelling in broad daylight, without any embellishment or hoopla. The garden spaces, paths and water features are thoughtfully designed for spiritual contemplation and peaceful introspection, with sculptures and garden art to aid your musings. The lower level is always free to enter, featuring the actual stone grotto from which the garden takes its name, artfully transformed into an al fresco shrine. Admission to the upper gardens — accessible via an outdoor elevator — has been waived through at least March 31. The Grotto is currently open daily from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Portland’s always-free International Test Rose Garden, 400 S.W. Kingston Ave., is open every day from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. There won’t yet be roses in March — blooms will start bursting forth in April and peak in June — but no matter when you visit, you’ll be treated to the most spectacular views in the city.