In June 2015, I wrote enthusiastically in this forum about Lilla and John Leach and their extraordinary botanical and civic legacy manifested at Leach Botanical Garden in East Portland. The trigger for the article was the unveiling of a brilliant design for eight of the Garden's undeveloped acres.
The plans, created by the design team of Land Morphology and Olson-Kundig Architects, envision a dozen new gardens focused on particular segments of the botanical collection. A substantial pollinator garden, water gardens including a fen and bog, an alpine garden, children’s garden, physic garden and Gulliver’s garden are among the notable elements.
An east-west arcade encompassing visitor, multipurpose, staff and horticultural facilities anchors the north edge of the public space. At the south boundary of the new development, a terrace and arbor with a gas fire hearth look north into the new gardens and south into the woodland forest around the original Leach dwelling. Reaching out into that forest, the design calls for an aerial tree walk allowing visitors to amble out into the mid-story of the trees as the forest slope drops away below.
Other elements include accessible walks and pathways; welcoming, multilingual wayfinding; open gathering spaces; and new parking and an attractive garden entrance.
To make the project responsive to the interests and needs of the diverse communities around the garden, an assertive effort of community engagement and outreach was launched early in the design process. Materials, surveys, community intercepts (one-on-one conversations with people in gathering places like coffee shops), and presentations to groups were the tools used. They were offered in Spanish, Russian and Vietnamese, as well as in English. The prospect of seeing this dramatic upgrade to the garden energized everyone involved.
Public projects, by necessity, are slow work. After 20 months, I can say the project truly deserves a blog update. The most important component of the project, after the design itself, was securing sufficient funding to build the first phase.
The Portland Development Commission provided catalyst funding to start the process in 2010 through the Lents Urban Renewal district. Portland Parks & Recreation, in addition to the land acquisitions that anticipated expansion, also committed dollars to support the project. Leach Garden Friends, the non-profit which operates the Garden on PP&R’s behalf, committed to raise $1.26 million. And Metro, through its Nature in Neighborhoods Capital Grants program, contributed funding as well.
In December 2016 project momentum took a great leap forward when Portland Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz announced that PP&R would pledge $4.9 million of park system development charge funds as a match to the Friends’ fundraising campaign. Effectively, a successful conclusion to this effort will ensure the building of the first phase of the Upper Garden, about $10 million of the total plan, including the pollinator garden, fireside terrace and arbor, and aerial tree walk..
In addition to the Parks’ funding, Fritz announced that the project had received a $188,000 Metro grant, with an additional city match of $376,000. If all goes as planned, the project is expected to go to construction in 2018.
As the belated blossoms of spring begin to slowly unfold, Leach Garden Friends has raised $710,000 toward our $1.26 million goal. Reaching the goal will release the $4.9 million in system development charge funds. We are optimistic about the project’s momentum and eager to reach the day when we can invite the community to join us in celebrating success and being able to stroll along the pathways of the garden’s magical transformation.
Anyone interested in learning more should contact James Draznin, Leach Development Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or me at 503-823-1673. The system development charge money provides an 8-to-1 match for each dollar contributed to the Garden’s campaign.