Leach Botanical Garden, Portland, Oregon


Around 1850, William Johnson and his sons Jacob and Ezra took advantage of the Donation Land Claim Act to acquire acreage in Oregon.  The adjacent plots they chose ran along what had been called Milwaukie Creek, which was renamed Johnson Creek.  Jacob operated a sawmill to provide lumber for the growing city of Portland and surrounding towns.

John Leach and Lilla Irvin were married in 1913.  John operated a drugstore near present-day SE 61st Avenue and SE Foster Road while Lilla, a botanist, taught high school science.

They became members of the Mazamas mountaineering club, and throughout their wilderness excursions Lilla made a number of botanical discoveries.  John helped bring paving to Foster Road and the construction of the Ross Island Bridge.

In 1931, they purchased about five acres of Jacob Johnson’s original 320-acre claim, near SE 122nd and SE Foster Road, and named it Sleepy Hollow.

The small stone cabin they built was roofed with slate tiles left over from the construction of Reed College.

After spending a few summers in the cabin, in 1936 they moved into a permanent home on the property.  Over the decades, they landscaped with mostly native and some imported species.

John died in 1972 and Lilla in 1980.  Their wills donated the property to the Metropolitan Park District (now the Portland Park Bureau).  The city was slow to act, and a few years passed.  A few dedicated people maintained the plants, mostly without the city’s knowledge.  In 1981 the Leach Garden Friends was formed to maintain the plants and pressure the city to act.  The new Park Commissioner visited the garden and decided to authorize the repairs and maintenance needed to open it as a public garden.  More property was purchased starting around 1985, and today the garden covers about 20 acres.