Leach Botanical Garden
Through The Years
John & Lilla acquire 4.5-acre property (formerly a pig farm reportedly with an illegal still!) on Johnson Creek.
Stone cabin built on south side of creek. John & Lilla spent summers there.
They continued botanizing trips to SW Oregon – with burros, Pansy & Violet
Manor house completed. Architects: Whitehouse, Church, Roehr & Newberry.
Wilbert Davies, Landscape architect, worked with Leaches re: landscaping plans
Sleepy Hollow landscaped and planting undertaken.
John & Lilla lived here until his death in 1972. John willed the property to the Metropolitan Park District, subsequently named the Portland Park Bureau.
Lilla moved to a care center in Lake Oswego.
City Facilities Management rented the house – rent money was not used for maintenance of the gardens.
Minimum care was given to gardens & property.
Devoted (3) volunteers worked hard to keep the gardens living – actually w/out approval (and, at the time, without knowledge) of the Park Bureau!
Meanwhile – the clock was ticking! The Leach wills stated that if the Park Bureau neglected the property, it could then be claimed by the YMCA. This organization could have been justified in claiming the property at any time, due to these years of neglect by the Metro Park District.
Lilla passed away in a Lake Oswego care center.
YMCA served notice to the Metropolitan Park District that it was going to exercise its right to claim the property.
George Lewis, Jr. & Charlene Holzwarth convened the first organizational meeting of Leach Garden Friends (LGF) at Multnomah County Library. Mr. Lewis became the first president of LGF and was urged to pursue discussions with the City in an effort to save the Garden from being sold. Incorporation papers were signed in November, 1981.
Charles Jordan had just become the new Commissioner of Parks. He stated that he had been told one of his first duties was to sign the papers which would turn the Leach property over to the YMCA. He ALMOST did this – but first stated that he thought he should “take a look” at the property he was to ‘sign away’. So – he visited the Leach property and it is said he was fascinated by what he called “the little jewel” and the City of Portland retained Sleepy Hollow! He then began to request appropriation of funds to bring the manor house up to code. Barbara Fealy, a noted landscape architect, was hired to plan and design the new public park and development of a Master Plan for Leach Botanical Garden was undertaken.
Information about the Park Bureau’s intent leaked out and the Oregonian printed a story and the formation of Leach Garden Friends was underway! Letters of support were mailed to the Park Bureau and the “Friends” conducted tours every Saturday morning, rain or shine! Many people came to see the place – a small ad had been placed in the paper – and there were as many as 40 people there some Saturdays! Charlene Holzwarth, Faith Mackaness & Golda Kirkpatrick were the tour guides. Betty Ferguson conducted birdwatching tours – made difficult by the 2 large cats which followed the groups! During this time, renters were not able to care for the property and winter storms often left the paths covered with debris making it unattractive and unsafe. The renters at the time had 2 large guard dogs – and after one dog bit a hiker, the owners were given notice and moved out of the house.
From these beginnings, the Portland Park bureau appointed an advisory committee to make recommendations for the property to be used as a park. In addition to Leach Garden Friends, the advisory group consisted of Oregon State Federation and Portland Garden clubs, 40-mile Loop Land Trust, Chamber of Commerce, Audubon Society and Park bureau.
This committee was chaired by Marlene Salon, Park Bureau project director. The Master Plan was written following the recommendations of this group. The Park Bureau hired a caretaker and allowed the Friends to set up an office in the basement of the manor house. Much hard labor was needed to clean up the property, install some new plantings and cut and dig out blackberry and ivy which had overrun the property.
The Garden opened formally to the public on September 1 with a ribbon cutting ceremony and representatives from all the parties who had worked to make the Garden a reality.
When it became apparent that more parking space was needed, a loan from the 40-Mile loop Land Trust, along with a donation of $10,000 from Oregon State Federation of Garden Clubs plus loans and donations from individual board members, allowed the Friends to purchase property on the south side of Johnson Creek. The Park Bureau then diverted funds from monies earmarked for parking in the gardens to development of a parking lot on this property at the south end of the bridge.
This account is drawn from the anecdotal notes and stories recorded by John Leach, early Friends and founders of Leach Garden Friends. We owe a great deal to these devoted people – some of whom personally knew John and Lilla – and who have contributed so much to the telling of their story and that of their beloved “Sleepy Hollow” home.