Located in Portland, Oregon, the Leach Botanical Garden is a 17-acre public botanical garden operated as part of the Portland Parks and Recreation Bureau. During the 19th century, 320 acres of the Johnson Creek area of outer southeast Portland belonged to Jacob Johnson, a local sawmill operator responsible for furnishing lumber for many of the city's earliest homes.
In 1931, 4.5 acres of the Johnson property was purchased by John and Lilla Leach, who renamed it Sleepy Hollow. Lilla, a nationally acclaimed botanist credited with the discovery of five plant species, including one dating back to the Tertiary Period, cultivated the land into an extensive natural reserve.
In 1971, the property was bequeathed to the city's parks bureau, according to the Leaches' wills. The wills designated that the property be donated to the city for use as a botanical garden, unless the city did not develop the project within a decade, at which point it would be donated to the YMCA. The 10-year deadline nearly passed, but through the action of neighbors and community members who feared the garden would be razed for building development, the grounds were retained and preserved as a botanical garden, which opened in 1983.
Gardens and Attractions
The gardens are operated under a partnership between the Leach Garden Friends nonprofit, established in 1981, and the Portland Parks and Recreation Bureau. Today, the site encompasses more than 17 acres of land, showcasing the original house grounds along with newly developed facilities, gardens, and community activity spaces. Original metalwork by John Leach, an accomplished craftsman and former president of the Oregon Arts and Crafts Society, is on display throughout the garden.
More than a mile of paths and trailways feature over 2,000 plant species, including indigenous and non-native plants, hybrids, and cultivars, many originally grown and tendered by the Leaches themselves. Over 125 species of ferns from 40 genera are found on the grounds, as are a variety of wildflowers, rock garden plants, and medicinal herbs. The lush landscape, divided by Johnson Creek, is also home to deer, rabbits, beaver, weasels, hawks, hummingbirds, and butterflies.
The Manor House serves as an entrance for the facility, showcasing beds of alpine and heath plants. Other formal structures on the property include an East Terrace with a brick patio, arbors, and stone centerpiece, and a Stone Cabin that formerly served as a summer retreat for the Leaches and their guests. Along the trails, many plants preserved from the Leaches' original collections, including camellias and trilliums, are labeled to educate visitors. Beds and garden areas are dedicated to plants that thrive in cold and dry climate conditions, including a Rock Garden slope emulating the alpine regions of the Pacific Northwest. Moist and dry Coniferous Woods are home to vibrant springtime blooms and woodland lily species such as Lilium, Polygonatum, and Smilacina. A Physic Garden also honors John Leach's work as a pharmacist, featuring shade-tolerant medicinal plants.
In the park's upper meadow, a Children's Discovery Garden serves as an educational area for students and young children, while local middle school students utilize the area as a community service learning facility. The garden's implementation is the first part of an ongoing Upper Garden Development Plan, which is set to feature an aerial tree walk, a pollinator meadow, a gathering green, and enhanced plantings and navigation pathways.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Through partnerships with local Portland organizations, the garden offers educational programming on botany, geology, and gardening. Art classes taught by local artists are also offered for both children and adults, emphasizing styles and techniques used to capture the natural world on print and canvas. Themed guided tours for adults are offered weekly, emphasizing the history and diverse plant life of the park.
The weekly Honeybee Hike series takes children ages 2-5 on an hour-long walk through the garden's trails, encouraging participants to experience nature through the use of their five senses before returning for a craft project. An Art in Nature summer day camp is held annually, emphasizing artistic and scientific exploration of the natural world. In May, a Children's Nature Fair is held in conjunction with community partners, including Portland Audubon and the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, featuring live music and family-friendly activities. Other popular events for adult visitors include an annual holiday bazaar, an English tea series, and a spring plant sale, which serves as a major fundraiser for the facility.
A summer college internship program offers hands-on experience for students looking to embark on careers in landscape architecture and horticulture. Interns are selected yearly to work alongside the facility's horticultural staff, caring for onsite plants and assisting with public programming.
6704 SE 122nd Ave, Portland, OR 97236, Phone: 503-823-9503