Portland is known as the city of roses. Those gorgeous, thorny, sweet smelling flowers thrive here, are festival-worthy and give us joy for months. But did you know that other blooms flourish here in the Pacific Northwest, too? We live in an ideal climate for the multi-hued, super lovely rhododendron and azalea. To that end, Portland’s got an amazing outdoor woodland, right next to Reed College in SE, that is one of the most beautiful places to explore within our hallowed city walls – roses or not. And with our unpredictable (to put it mildly) spring weather, isn’t it grand to have an outdoor bonanza of color waiting, that is equally beautiful in full sun, sprinkling raindrops or blustery winds and clouds?

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Spring Forward
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Park is a wonder to behold. With simple to splashy waterfalls, rocks from Mt Hood and Mt Adams, a towering fountain, over 2500 species of rhodies and azaleas plus other gorgeous flowers and trees – it is so much more than a garden. And the bird life is awesome, too. Countless Canada Geese, ducks, jays, herons and blackbirds call this living gem home. Oh the ducks! You may feel like you’ve imposed on their happy mallard world, the way they will march right past you, quacking away on the paths and stonewalls. Are they looking for food? Perhaps. But don’t you feed them – that’s a big no no. Are they waddling from lake to waterfall to creek and back to lake? Maybe so.  Wherever they are going, your little buds will love following them along and motoring around the garden via stonewalls, hard-packed walkways, footbridges and stone steps. And you will, too

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Originally owned by Sam Ladd, two-term Portland mayor in the 1800s and namesake of the lovely Ladd’s Addition neighborhood, the CSRG is now part of Portland Parks & Rec and under the provenance of the American Rhododendron Society. Tended with love, planted with care and enjoyed by thousands (including dogs), it’s just a hop, skip or jump from wherever you are now on SE 28th one block north of Woodstock. Expect to see three generations of families exploring the trails and paths together with kids ranging in ages from stroller tots to ‘tweens, while Reed College kids meander and unwind from classes, dogs and their owners sniff every bud, and teens play chess on a bench. It’s a spectacularly Portland vibe.

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Spring in Your Step
Spring is the best time to see the color. April – May is a riot of magnificent hues, with rhodies and azaleas blooming and flowering more and more each day, including many species that are not native to our area but thrive here nonetheless. The garden hosts a big event called The Mother’s Day Rhododendron Show and Plant Sale, to encourage all y’all to enjoy these lovelies at their finest. It is a judged event with the public invited to bring plants from their own much-loved rhody gardens for inclusion. What a groovy alternative on the uber-important day each year where we celebrate the calling that is motherhood!

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Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden is open dawn to duck…errr…dusk everyday. Admission is a nominal fee of $4 for adults Thursdays – Mondays between the hours of 10:00 am and 6:00 pm. Kiddos under twelve are always free and Tuesdays and Wednesday are free for everyone all the livelong day. The parking lot onsite is on the small side, but seems to be sufficient with turnover occurring as regularly as guests arrive. If it does fill there is a Reed lot across the street and signage makes it easy to find. Dress for the weather. Paths and bridges can be a bit slippery when wet.  Ramps and handrails abound keeping it safe and accessible to all.

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Hope Springs Eternal
Think it over, and maybe you and your junior naturalists will head this way to meander, uncover and discover sometime soon…even if it is drizzle-central outside. With an amazing tree canopy accompanying the rhodies, you can stay pretty dry while you amble and enjoy. Regardless of whether it’s a rainy or sunny day, the shades and tones pop no matter what and are sure to put some spring back into your step. What’s better this time of year? And with our April and May weather sometimes changing radically hour-by-hour and forecasts can be well, moot, who knows what any day will be like?  All we can say for sure is that even with the bluest skies or on the grayest days – Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden will be exuding color. How very Portland.

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
SE 28th Ave & Woodstock Blvd
Portland
503-771-8386
Online: www.portlandonline.com

What is your favorite springtime garden?

–Liz Overson

Photos by Liz Overson