From shaded green oases to colorful fragrance-filled flower gardens and stylized spaces designed to impress, gardens in the city offer a respite from the bustle and noise. But the gorgeous gardens in Salem, Oregon, provide more than a moment of beauty and peace; they also showcase the seemingly endless variety of fruits, flowers, and other flora that thrive in the Willamette Valley.
Some of the gardens highlighted here are historic, reflecting the dominant influences and varieties of the time. Other gardens are more modern and incorporate native plants and butterfly favorites. One is on a working farm, and another is at a retail nursery. The Oregon Garden, the state’s premier botanical garden, is designed for both pleasure and education. Whichever garden you choose to wander, you can stroll the paths, soak up the colors and fragrances, and discover new garden ideas along the way.
Martha Springer Botanical Garden
The first thing you notice about the Martha Springer Botanical Garden is the birdsong, trilling from an unseen warbler. This narrow 1-acre garden hidden behind the Sparks Center for athletics on the Willamette University campus is devoted to native plants and organic gardening. Many of the plants provide food and habitat for wildlife and pollinators, such as bees and butterflies. Sixteen raised beds and tall bushes fill the center of the garden. The Mill Race flows along one side, the back of the Sparks Center defines the other. Sword ferns, maidenhair ferns, thimbleberry, wild roses, and other native plants provide cover for nesting birds. Butterflies and hummingbirds are drawn to the monarda, showy milkweed, poppies, evening primrose, and other flowers. A small artificial waterfall and a small pond provide water for the wildlife. Benches — some hidden, some in the open — invite visitors to linger. To find the garden, park in the lot in front of the Sparks Center and follow the sidewalk around the side of the building.
Located at the end of a country road, Sebright Gardens is a retail nursery specializing in hostas, ferns, and epimediums. But the four acres of display gardens built on a slope around the residence showcase much more than just shade-loving plants. Roses, conifers, peonies, and other perennials line the grass and gravel paths that lead you through the garden to a small white gazebo. Hostas — the nursery’s catalog offers 980 varieties — are tucked here and there throughout the shaded parts of the garden.
Potted hostas ready to take home are for sale in the nursery’s shade house, along with a large selection of ferns. The company’s catalog offers more than 150 varieties of ferns and 120 varieties of epimediums. Gardeners will also find potted perennial shade plants, shrubs, iris, and other plants available at the nursery. The garden and nursery are open to the public from late March through October. Check the website for exact dates, directions, and hours.
Once the home, studio, and private garden of the Pacific Northwest’s first woman-owned landscape architecture firm, today Gaiety Hollow showcases the garden design principles of its original owners. Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver began designing the garden in 1932, incorporating garden rooms, sightlines, points of interest, and other features. An allele framed by boxwood hedges, rhododendrons, and camellias stretches along one side. A parterre flower garden with a complex pattern of brick walkways, benches, and an arbor blooms from spring through fall. Roses, lilies, delphiniums, and more fill the space with color and fragrance. A grape-covered pergola links the parterre garden with the allele and provides a shady spot for relaxing.
The garden is maintained by the Lord and Schryver Conservancy, which offers free open garden days from April through September, workshops, and other events. Check the calendar on the conservancy website for open garden dates. Parking is available a block away on Mission Street in a lot at Bush’s Pasture Park or around the corner on Church Street.
Deepwood Museum And Gardens
Just up the street from Gaiety Hollow is Deepwood Museum and Gardens, once the home of Alice Bretherton Brown Powell. The formal gardens at Deepwood also incorporate designs developed in the 1930s by Lord and Schryver. Garden rooms, walks, and natural areas surround the 1894 Queen Anne-style mansion.
Climbing roses, foxglove, astilbe, iris, and other perennial flowers fill the beds between the brick paths of the enclosed Tea House Garden. The expansive lawn of the Great Room hosts weddings and other social events. It features a white metal gazebo from the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon. Boxwood hedges and a scroll-pattern iron fence define the Scroll Garden where Alice Brown married Keith Powell. Free parking is available in the lot behind the house. A greenhouse, restrooms, and a nature trail are also behind the house and gardens. The garden is free to visit and open year round.
Bush’s Pasture Park Rose Garden
With more than 2,000 plants representing more than 100 hybrid tea and old rose cultivars, Bush’s Pasture Park Rose Garden is filled with fragrant blooms from May to September. The garden began in 1955 with hybrid tea and floribunda roses. Today, rose varieties from the 1950s to the present are planted in more than 80 flowerbeds. North of the gazebo, the beds are filled with rose varieties dating from the 1920s and 1930s that were collected from around the Bush family estate. Even older roses are part of the Tartar Old Rose Collection, planted in 17 beds in the northwest corner of the garden. Mae and A.R. Tartar collected roses introduced to the public before 1857 when the first hybrid tea rose appeared. This collection of old roses is considered the finest on public property in the Pacific Northwest.
Don’t miss a chance to explore the greenhouse and surrounding gardens near the parking lot at the end of Bush Street S.E. Known as the Bush Conservatory, the greenhouse dates to 1882. Inside you’ll find cactus and other exotic plants. Outside, espaliered apple trees and a series of mixed borders surround the structure. Both the rose garden and conservatory are free to visit and open year round.
The Willamette Valley is known for growing an astounding array of plants, from hops and berries to roses and redwoods. Much of this botanic diversity is on display at the Oregon Garden near Silverton, about 30 minutes from Salem. Sprawling over 80 acres, the botanical garden features 20 themed gardens designed to educate and delight. You’ll find creative, kid-friendly plantings in the Children’s Garden and pet-friendly ideas in the Pet Garden. Roses dominate one garden, conifers another. Native plants recorded by Lewis and Clark are the focus of yet another garden. Additional gardens include a sensory garden, medicinal garden, honor garden, bosque, northwest garden, water garden, axis garden, a home demonstration garden, market garden, rediscovery forest, a train garden, tropical greenhouse, and wetland garden.
Paved and gravel paths connect the themed gardens, and a tram offers rides for a small fee from April through October. Dogs are welcome on a leash. During the winter holiday season, more than a million twinkling lights set the garden aglow. Those willing to face the rain and cold will find an ice skating rink, fire pits, vendors, a snowless tubing hill, and Santa. Want to stay the weekend? The Oregon Garden Resort features on-site lodging, a restaurant, and a spa. Admission fee required.
Schreiner’s Iris Gardens
Iris blooms in a dizzying array of colors are only part of the vibrant display gardens at Schreiner’s Iris Gardens. Lupin, clematis, dogwoods, peonies, and other summer-blooming perennials accent the iris, delighting bumblebees and visitors alike. The display garden showcases the iris varieties raised on the 150-acre working farm. Stroll the grassy paths, rest on a colorfully painted bench, enjoy the sweet fragrance, and listen to the quiet buzzing of hundreds of bees. All the iris varieties in the 10-acre garden are carefully labeled, so grab an order form on which to note your favorites. Iris can be ordered online or in the gift shop for late summer or fall delivery. The gift shop features cut flowers to take home, as well as home decor and other iris-themed items. The garden is open each year during May. Check the website for exact dates. Admission fee required.
The gardens change with the seasons, so plan to visit multiple times to catch the gardens at their seasonal peaks. Tulips and spring flowers bloom in April, summer flowers put on a show in June and July, and fall color adds drama in late September and October.
Take a camera and a notebook to record new plant discoveries, planting combinations, and other ideas to use in your own garden. Check each garden’s website for a calendar of informative tours, talks, and other special events to learn more about the plants and principles at work.
Oregon’s spectacular scenery and dramatic landscapes captivate travelers of all ages:
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