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Oregon Rhododendrons

In springtime large clumps of pink and purple flowers begin showing off in front yards throughout Pacific Northwest neighborhoods. Our mix of moisture, mild weather, and acidic soil, make this region a Rhododendron paradise.
The plant's diversity is amazing. With a native habitat ranging from 19,000' alpine meadows in Nepal to tropical regions in Northern Australia and the wind-swept coast of Scotland, the rhododendron exhibits a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. The blooming season can extend from early January to mid-summer, but April and May are the peak times for most of our local plants. Fortunately, there are a number of outstanding public and private gardens in the Pacific Northwest dedicated to this species.

Best known in the Portland area is the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden located in the southeast section of the city, between Reed College and the Eastmoreland Golf Course. Once an overgrown, abandoned patch of brambles and brush, the garden was co-founded in 1950 by the Portland Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society and the city Parks and Recreation department. Today, its seven acres include winding paths, a spring-fed lake, waterfalls, bridges, and a wide variety of birds and waterfowl. With over 2500 rhododendron, azaleas, and companion plants, the garden offers a dazzling display of color this time of year. The park is open daily from dawn to dusk. Admission is $3.00 except for Tuesdays and Wednesdays when there is no charge.

A few miles south of Newberg, off Highway 219 on Ray Bell Road, is the Cecil and Molly Smith Garden. Situated on a sloping woodland covered with old grove Douglas Firs, this off-the-beaten track garden is a direct contrast to the more manicured and structured space of Crystal Springs. The garden began on the private, five acres of the Smiths' home and reflects their intense interest and love of rhodies. Cecil Smith collected, planted, and bred many varieties of the species and was considered an international expert. He didn't believe in excessive pruning and the plants on his property were allowed to grow freely creating a more natural environment. Paths crisscross through the shaded forest, passing wildflowers, native shrubs, along with his spectacular collection of rhododendrons. In 1984, at the age of 80, Smith sold the garden to the Portland Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society and they maintain the property today. It is open for public viewing every Saturday during March, April, and May excluding Memorial Day weekend. Admission is $3.00.

Further south, in Eugene, is Hendricks Park, another cooperative venture between a city and American Rhododendron Society. Here, under a canopy of native oaks, are over 6000 rhodies and azaleas along with magnolias and viburnums. A stroll along the meandering walkways is a long-standing, local Mother's Day tradition.

On the Oregon Coast, the town of Florence bills itself as "The City of Rhododendrons." While it has no formal garden, the town pays tribute to the plant on the third weekend in May with its annual Rhododendron Festival. Begun in 1908, it is the second oldest flower festival in Oregon, one year younger than Portland's Rose Festival. The event features floral displays, a Main Street parade, and, of course, the crowning of Queen Rhododendra.

Further south on the Oregon Coast, near the town of Coos Bay is Shore Acres State Park. On a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the five acres of formal gardens were once part of the private estate of timber baron Louis Simpson. While the gardens are interesting to visit any time of the year, in April through mid-May, hundreds of rhododendron and azaleas are at their peak.

While the rhododendron may be the state flower of Washington, you will find no finer displays of their lovely blossoms than in Oregon.