Behind the project: Leach Botanical Upper Garden Development

John and Lilla Leach moved to the 4.5-acre site of the future Leach Botanical garden in the early 1930s in southeast Portland, Oregon. They built the existing stone cottage on the banks of Johnson Creek as a summer get-away. In 1936, the newly built Manor House became their full-time residence and they began landscaping and planting the property.

John and Lilla were botanists who traveled the world looking for unique and exotic plants for their garden. In their wills, they donated their property and home to the City of Portland as a botanical park. In 1981, the Leach Gardens Friends was formed by local neighbors, garden groups, and citizens joined forces to help the City care for the park.

The 8-acre Upper Garden area, where James W. Fowler Co. (JWF) is constructing a variety of improvements, was less developed and served as a great opportunity for the City and Leach Garden Friends to bring their garden expansion visions to life. The new area will connect the historic garden and Manor House through a 350-foot circular aerial tree walk which will bring visitors into the tree canopy and allow for spectacular views of the garden. Elevated thirty feet above the ground at the southern end, this feature will be one of the few raised garden walkways in the world.

Other features include a new pollinator and habitat garden serving to teach visitors the role of pollination and sustainable gardening. A children’s garden will provide a hands-on opportunity for kids to learn about gardening through activities and attractions. The water garden will include various water features and plants.

Aerial walkway construction in progress.
Photograph by: James W. Fowler Co.

JWF’s scope includes not only the garden features and aerial walkway, but also improved parking for the public, paved and soft surface pathways and trails, concrete and metal stairways, gabion retaining walls, stormwater infiltration systems, and irrigation for all the plantings.

Part of the contract requirements included extensive photography to document the project progress. JWF suggested to the City that a drone would be an excellent way to document the project and provide opportunities for the publicizing the project after it was complete. The City agreed and JWF purchased a drone. Our superintendent on the project, Todd Nichols, was already a FAA-certified drone pilot, so he was a natural choice to operate the equipment. Currently, Todd is the only private citizen authorized by the City of Portland to fly their parks.

Aerial view of the the Leach Botanical Upper Garden site.
Photograph by: James W. Fowler Co.

Prior to the COVD-19 restrictions, the City was to host a national convention of the American Public Gardens Association convention in June 2020 and a tour of the Leach project was to be a showcase element of the event. Unfortunately, the convention was canceled, however the project is on schedule and should be complete in November 2020.