Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 13, 2015

A Rose Is a Rose Is a City

As we tour portions of Oregon, we’ll miss several important cities, including … nearly all of them. Let’s visit Portland, the state’s largest city (not the capital: That’s Salem). We won’t begin to do justice to this diverse, interesting place. We’ll provide some highlights and leave you to discover more on your own. Perhaps some knowledgable travelers or Portlandians will be kind enough to add suggestions by leaving a comment. We previously wrote about one of our favorite Portland sites, Powell’s City of Books. CLICK HERE to read that post.

IMG_2165 Brad Nixon

Note: Portland has a reputation for cool, rainy weather. It isn’t always raining there. You can, in fact, broil in sunny, triple-digit temperatures in the summer. Pack accordingly. Yes, it rains there; Portland averages 35 inches of precipitation per year. Compare a city less famous for rain: Cincinnati. Ohio’s Queen City averages 42.5 inches. Things ain’t always what they seem.

Portland spreads wide, with extensive suburbs, but the downtown is rich in interest, relatively compact and mostly walkable, with some hills. There’s good public transportation, including to and from the airport. It has intriguing neighborhoods with a wide variety of architecture, shopping and eclectic, excellent food. The Willamette riverfront is interesting; one can enjoy long runs or walks along it, and even cross it on foot via several of the bridges.

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Portland’s climate is suited to growing a lot of things, and the city’s excellent parks feature them. Roses, for example: Portland’s known as the City of Roses. In this post, we’ll look at a few notable Portland parks and gardens, starting with the International Rose Test Garden. The roses bloom roughly from April through October and peak in June. If you enjoy gardens, flowers and roses in particular, there are something like 550 varieties, and the place is replete with color (and scent).

IMG_0115 portland rose garden Brad Nixon

International Rose Test Garden

The Garden is in Washington Park, west of downtown on high ground, with good views of the Cascades and Mt. Hood on clear days. It’s a delightful place. One can walk there from the heart of downtown in reasonable time, but be prepared for uphill walking. There’s public transport to the park, too.

Immediately adjacent to the Rose Garden, still in Washington Park, is another garden; in our opinion a rival for beauty and interest: the Portland Japanese Garden.

IMG_0123 zen garden Brad Nixon

There are five subdivisions, each featuring a different style, degree of formality, vegetation and use of stone, wood and water. We heartily recommend this opportunity to experience an Eastern aesthetic under western skies.

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Note: Parking may be scarce, especially during the summer season or if there’s a festival or special event in the park.

Another Asian garden is the Lan Su Chinese Garden, enclosed within a walled city block in downtown Portland’s Chinatown. It’s a gem.

IMG_0045 M Vincent

The perimeter consists of Chinese architecture, surrounding a large pool. As one walks around the square, the vistas change every few feet. Interestingly, while most of the plants are native to China, none were brought from there due to import restrictions. They were gathered from gardens and nurseries in Oregon. It’s a haven of peace and beauty, set aside from the workaday world just beyond the walls. You can tour it in an hour.

Across the Willamette to the east, on the eastern edge of the popular Hawthorne District is a neighborhood known as Mt. Tabor. Mt. Tabor Park occupies a volcanic cinder cone, now grown over with grass and large trees. It’s a green, shady place to escape the summer heat. Look west from the top of the park for views of downtown, and to the east, on clear days, for a view of spectacular Mt. Hood.

IMG_2032 Mr Hood Brad Nixon

Mt. Hood from Mt. Tabor

Finally, for dedicated botanophiles who delight in discovering recondite but worthwhile arboreta, Portland boasts a hidden treasure, the Leach Botanical Garden.

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Tucked away in the SE portion of Portland, on SE 122nd south of Foster, this 4.5 acre preserve spans steep, winding Johnson Creek. It was the private property of John and Lilla Leach. Mrs. Leach was an accomplished botanist. In the 1930s, the couple began planting the property with an impressive variety of trees, plants, flowers, shrubs and ferns, including some plants discovered by the Leaches. They bequeathed the land to the City of Portland, and today one can ramble over secluded, shady paths and enjoy the array of trees and plants, many of them with identification labels (welcome to us non-botanists). Touring on a blistering July day, we walked in cool, damp shade in a tranquil world all our own. It’s a bit of a trip from downtown Portland, but rewarding for aficionados, as well as those who simply appreciate a beautiful place. The garden sponsors many educational activities, and is staffed largely by volunteers.

We’ll return in the next post to discover more of the City of Roses.

This post is part of a series about traveling in Oregon. CLICK HERE to see the first. Use the navigation below to see earlier or later posts.

© Brad Nixon 2015, 2017. Chinese Garden photo © Marcy Vincent, used with kind permission.



  1. Makes me feel like I am there.

    Sent from my iPad



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