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Bishop's Close
Bybee Howell Park
Deepwood Estate
Lithia Park
Shore Acres
Historic Public Gardens to Visit:

Among the region's many fine public gardens are a surprising number of historic landscapes. Some are restorations of once-fine gardens that had fallen into disrepair and were brought back to their former glory. Others are originals that have survived for scores of years. A few are re-creations. These gardens are as diverse as the region's past. They include kitchen gardens planted by the Hudson's Bay Company during the fur trade, pioneer rose gardens, Victorian showplaces, historic conservatories, lavish estate gardens of the twentieth century, and more. Each of them welcomes visitors.

I've visited all of these gardens. While the ones I've seen were really wonderful, any garden can have a bad spell. There are all kinds of reasons for problems (the weather stinks, funding fell through, volunteers quit, etc.), but one does not want to book a flight and travel 3,000 miles to see them. To avoid such a debacle, contact the places in question and grill them for information. In other words, this page offers information, not endorsements or guarantees.

check The Bishop's Close

11800 SW Military Lane
Portland, OR 97219-8436
Phone: (800) 452-2562 or (503) 636-5613
Fax: (503) 636-5616
website: The Bishop's Close

Once the estate of wealthy wheat exporter Peter Kerr, the Bishop's Close is an exquisite 13-acre garden designed, in part, by John C. Olmsted. It features choice trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants planted in borders and large-scale island beds arranged around expansive lawns. Kerr started this garden in 1914 and worked on it for more than 50 years. Today, the plantings have matured and the perfectly-composed plantings are a work of art.

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check James F. Bybee House and Howell Territorial Park

Howell Park Road, off NW Sauvie Island Road
Sauvie Island, OR
Phone: (503) 797-1850
website: Howell Territorial Park

The Bybee-Howell House, a pioneer home, re-creates life on Sauvie Island from 1855-85. The grounds are suitably historic, and include an herb garden, a collection of old roses, a small agricultural museum, and the Pioneer Orchard, an extensive collection of fruit varieties grown by pioneers. The orchard has more than 115 different varieties of apples, and smaller collections of pears, plums, cherries, and other fruit.

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check Deepwood Estate

1116 Mission Street SE
Salem, OR 97302
Phone: (503) 363-1825
website: Deepwood Estate

Deepwood is an 1894 Victorian mansion surrounded by four acres of elegant grounds designed by Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver, the first women to practice landscape architecture in the Pacific Northwest. The gardens, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, include mixed borders, boxwood-lined paths, and outdoor rooms. Though they date from the late 1920s, they feature Victorian touches, such as latticework, topiary, vintage plants, and a gazebo. In addition to the original landscape, the grounds also include a perennial border, a conservatory, and a nature walk.

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check Lithia Park

Lithia Park, as seen on vintage postcard.

Scene in Lithia Park Ashland, Oregon

Between Granite Street and Pioneer Street south of Winburn Way
Ashland Parks and Recreation
20 East Main St
Ashland, OR 97520
Phone: (541) 488-5340
website: Lithia Park

Old-fashioned without being frumpy, Lithia Park has historic shade trees, a rose garden, a Japanese garden, an Elizabethan herb garden, duck ponds, fountains, and a lovely walk through the woods. The park dates from the 1890s, when the Southern Oregon Chautauqua Association occupied the site. While the men were building the hall, the Ladies Chautauqua Club set about beautifying the grounds. They planted trees, grass, and flowers, and the grounds became the first park in southern Oregon. By 1908, the Women's Civic Improvement Club had launched and won a campaign to make the park bigger, extending it up the creek for nearly a mile. In about 1914, Ashland hired the West Coast's premier landscape architect, John McLaren, to design the park.

McLaren's plan encouraged many uses. Gentle paths and a curvilinear road let visitors explore the natural beauty of Ashland Creek. Tennis courts and other facilities encouraged active sports. Gardens and plazas offered places for strolling and for informal gatherings. Construction was started in 1915. Lithia Springs Park was dedicated on the fourth of July, 1916. Over the years, the park has had the inevitable ups and downs, but a restoration started in 1979 returned the park to its former glory.

Lithia Park is located in the heart of Ashland next to the Elizabethan Theatre. The park extends south of the town plaza along Winburn Way. It is bounded by Granite Street on the west and Pioneer Street on the east. Lithia Park is open daily during daylight hours.

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check Shore Acres State Park

Off US 101, 13 mi. SW of Coos Bay
Charleston, OR 97420
website: Shore Acres State Park

In 1905, Louie Simpson, a wealthy lumber tycoon and heir to a shipping empire, purchased 320 acres on the southern Oregon coast and started planning his summer retreat. Two years later, he moved into his new home. It was a massive structure (the living room alone measured more than 1,800 square feet) with a commanding view of the Pacific Ocean.

As a suitable counterpoint to the house, Simpson created a five-acre formal garden. The grounds, which were once cared for by five full-time gardeners, included choice exotics that Simpson's ships picked up all over the world. Some had never been grown in Oregon before. In addition, the grounds had a Japanese garden, lavish flower displays, and manicured lawns. The gardens remained a showplace through much of the 1920s, but Simpson's circumstances changed. He sold the estate to Oregon State Parks in 1942. By then, the house (it was actually the Simpson's second mansion; the first was destroyed by fire) was a derelict, and had to be razed.

In 1971, park officials began to restore the long-neglected gardens. Even after 30 years, many of the original plants survived, as had original and revised plans for the design. Within four years, workers had returned Shore Acres to its former glory. Today, the Asian garden looks like it did during Simpson's tenure, and the formal plantings of roses, hydrangeas, dahlias, and lavish flower displays are all perfected maintained.

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