By Kate Snyder
The first phase of a 20-year master plan for a botanical garden in Portland was recently completed, and the garden’s new expansion opened to the public last year. The 16-acre Leach Botanical Garden is owned by the Portland Parks & Recreation, and the first phase of its renovation was completed by a multidisciplinary team led by Land Morphology, a Seattle-based landscape architecture firm.
This $11 million project includes the infrastructure for future gardens and an eventual new administrative building and lecture hall/common use space, according to Land Morphology’s website.
“I spent the first 15 years of my career in public horticulture,” said Richard Hartlage, principal at Land Morphology. “[The Leach Botanical Garden] is one of the most gratifying projects we’ve ever done. It was a lot of hard work and there were some difficult situations, but for the most part, it went exceedingly well.”
The process began in 2015 when Land Morphology was selected to lead the development of a strategic master plan that would fundamentally transform the botanical garden, according to project information. Phase One focused on developing the upper garden and establishing connections between it and the lower house and historic garden. Hartlage said once his firm was chosen to lead the project, the design team worked with the City for about a year to develop the master plan.
“The more we got into it, the more excited we got,” Hartlage said. “It was kind of dreamy, figuring out a future for this place.”
Part of the first phase is the new system of trails, project information shows, such as a 400-foot-long aerial tree walk through a native forest of western cedar and Douglas fir that overlooks the original Leach manor house and Johnson Creek. Also new is a series of three botanic collections: Pollinator Meadow, Woodland Hillside and Southwest Garden. Later phases are slated to include six display gardens that would feature iconic physic, alpine, fen and aquatic settings. The half-acre Pollinator Meadow features 240 unique taxa, or different plant varieties, and provides an ecology to attract pollinating insects and birds to be viewed and interpreted for visitors.
The plan also outlines schematic design for site improvements and infrastructure, such as all utilities for future phases, stormwater management, parking, and new structures, which include restrooms and a fireside terrace used for events. The fireside terrace is an open structure that could be used for classes and rental opportunities.
“It is exciting after all of the collaboration, hard work, visioning and hurdles to see implementation of Phase 1 development for the Upper Garden,” said Lindsey Heller, Land Morphology’s design principal and project manager. “Perfectly aligned with the new development happening in Southeast Portland, Leach Garden is an exciting opportunity to celebrate the new, reconnect with the past, and provide momentum for the future.”
According to Land Morphology’s website, the project’s master plan defines the spatial framework, addresses the business plan and includes implementation and funding strategies. The plan also provides schematic designs for new buildings and site improvements.
“The master plan captures ecological and cultural values that will be an asset to southeast Portland,” Hartlage said. “It will educate visitors while serving as a regional attraction for Portland residents – not to mention the benefits to local tourism.”