Monday, January 9, 2023

Elk Rock Garden at the Bishop's Close; how I learned to love a PNW garden with no spikes

If you've ever had the privilege of visiting the Elk Rock Garden of the Bishop's Close then you'll recognize this scene at the back side of the parking area.

I've visited when the wisteria vine has lost all of it's leaves and is nothing but a bare curvy skeleton, and when it's so lush that it completely encloses the bench. This is however the first time I've noticed mushrooms growing on the bench.

Now I've walked up to the area that overlooks the parking, above the wisteria. In a few weeks the hamamelis trees (witch hazels) at my back will be covered in their crimped confetti-like blooms. A years-ago visit to this garden was the first time I was able to smell their unusual fragrance. It's also worth noting that in my 9 years of visiting, this is the fullest I've ever seen the parking lot. I'm not the only one who's visiting, worried about the future.

The news broke in early November: the house (offices to the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon) and garden were up for sale. The estate was given to the Diocese by the Kerr estate in 1959 with the stipulation (and a trust to ensure care) that the garden be open to the public. I won't sugar coat things, this sale felt a lot like a slap in the face to the public and those who love the garden.

The hamamelis...

I do not recall seeing this mounted carpenter square on previous visits.

Although I certainly understand how useful it must be.

Hypertufa troughs moved here from another garden garden lost to us, the Berry Botanic Garden. I never did get to visit the BBG.

The learning and love that comes from wandering a garden like this for nearly a decade cannot be overstated. 

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Wissel's Saguaro'

Araucaria araucana, the monkey puzzle tree.

Back when I first visited (in February of 2013) part of me was still learning to love a truly PNW garden. You see my garden heart had been awakened in the desert SW. If there wasn't an agave, what was the point? I never have seen an agave at Elk Rock Garden, and you know what? That's okay.

Adiantum aleuticum, the western maidenhair fern.

Moss, fallen leaves, and cyclamen.

Some of you will be shocked to read these words, some of you will have already figured it out; I love moss almost as much as I love agaves. Yep.

What will become of all the lush patches of moss and cyclamen if the new owner of the garden develops the land into housing, as is feared?

So many plants with such history. Do they have a future?

The day I visited—December 16th—the estate's gardener was deep in conversation with a few visitors just to the side of the visitors center. I tried to eavesdrop, to hear a bit of information about the future, but wasn't able to catch anything of meaning.

This giant old Chinese wisteria, Wisteria sinensis 'Alba', is a favorite of mine, although I don't think I've ever seen it in bloom. I love it for those gnarly mossy branches.

The window reflects a blue sky behind me.

Blue sky with the perfectly framed view of Mt. Hood.

That's a fine Mahonia eurybracteata forest in the making.

I do love a pair of traditional urns, especially when planted with astelia.

Garrya elliptica, silk tassel bush.

I do not recall ever noticing the large windows on the extreme right, some sort of second floor conservatory? 

More cyclamen...

Sinocalycanthus chinensis, aka Calycanthus chinensis or Chinese sweetshrub.

I'm still mourning the removal of a large edgeworthia next to the stream...

...and I can't see this small pond without thinking of the day I visited with Lila.

Being tree-stupid I didn't have a clue as to the ID of the tall blazing rust-colored conifer above. Since I usually assume everyone else knows more than I do, I asked a couple who was coming up the pathway if they knew the ID. Oh yes he said, that's a madrone. 

No. I looked at him while shaking my head and saying "I don't think so". Then I was told it's a maple. Well, no. It's not that either. Me thinks it's actually a taxodium, a cypress. But I could be wrong. *I was wrong! Thanks to Linda and Tamara who say metasequoia!*

Bright green fern fronds are a lovely accompaniment.

Here are the madrones, out at the point, overlooking the Willamette River.

Final photo from my visit, the alter which has always stirred feelings of great reverence within. This is a powerful place. I am deeply saddened to think that I may never visit again.

All material © 2009-2022 by Loree L Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. I didn't realize that it was still open. I need to get over there. I've only been once and the weather was terrible the day I was there so I didn't get to see much.

    1. I've heard that once the deal closes, so do the gates. So get over there!

  2. I know of this garden because it is definitely my type. What a crime to think of it being torn down. This sanctuary is much more needed than housing, no matter what anyone tries to say. I believe the tree might be a Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). You could tell if it was a Taxodium if it had the "knees" at the base. I so wish I could grow Wiesel's Saguaro. What a beauty.

    1. Thanks for the tree ID! This area is incredibly desirable for housing, expensive housing, so the poor plants don't stand a chance.

  3. I thought the same as Linda - Metasequoia g. - maybe? I am crying over the sale of this magic place but hold out hope the new owners, whomever that is, shall be compassionate and appreciate its splendor. Thank you for the bittersweet tour, Loree.

    1. Yes! Thanks for the ID confirmation. I've heard talk of the house being a tear down and the land being subdivided into multiple lots. I just hope the plants might be sold off, or donated, first.

  4. It's a shame that the future of this garden is in a peril, that the state, city and diocese can't come together to save a treasure of a garden.
    I love the pile of golden fall leafs covering the window sills, contrasting with the upside down (licorice?) ferns...
    The Wissel's Saguaros are a sight! Mine can't grow fast enough for me.

    1. Ya, I wish my Wissel would get with it! As for the city, since it can't even help the homeless or dead with skyrocketing crime I don't see it giving a lick about this place.

  5. It's a beautiful garden and all the more important as you have memories and feelings associated with it. It's distressing that everything is now valued in terms of the price it can bring when placed for sale. Maybe good fortune will be with you and a garden conservancy or a similar organization will acquire, preserve and maintain it.

    1. Call me jaded but I don't see that happening, as wonderful as it would be.

  6. This country really needs a National Trust. Ok, we've got the parks system, maybe it just doesn't go far enough?
    It's a shame you never got to Berry Botanic, it really was wonderful. But then, I haven't been to Bishop's Close. I had better get to it!
    If no one could permanently save Berry Botanic I'm not optimistic. If a garden with preservation, conservation and a world class seed collection can't be saved- good enough that program and seed collection was moved to Portland State University-and the troughs good enough to be moved (I didn't know they had been saved, and now in danger again? Argh!) Does anyone know how much longer we have to visit?

    1. I've heard that once the sale closes, so does the garden—sale is currently pending. Of course this is just a rumor, not hard fact.


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