Gardens are magical, always changing and ready to please all the senses. The Oregon Garden in picturesque Silverton is no exception. Just fifty miles south of Portland, it blooms with charm twelve months a year. The space encompasses a cluster of sixteen gardens, each with its own theme and special appeal.

Throughout the 80-acre site you’ll see amazing sculptures of everything from people to pets to wilderness animals, all as carefully crafted as the flower beds themselves. The Oregon Garden also offers public tours of its Gordon House, a Frank Lloyd Wright home moved to the site in 2001.

Spring in the Garden

For a change of pace and a pleasant surprise, visit the Oregon Garden the moment its first flowers appear. It’s the perfect time and place to gather your thoughts. The garden is often quiet in the spring, although special events are scheduled year round. Not all displays are active when it’s cold but the ones that are offer a jewel box of sights and sounds to interested visitors.

Start at the Oregon Garden Visitor Center and pick up a map of the specialty gardens and descriptions of what you’ll see. Walk to the Amazing Water Garden and photograph landscaped streams and waterfalls. They gurgle year round and provide natural "white noise" you can wrap yourself in like a blanket. Move on to the Conifer Garden-spectacular in cold weather-with its hollies and spruces and wintergreen with bright red berries. Witch hazel is another plant that blooms and gives off scent when days are nippy. And the lovely heather "Scotch Chocolate" will warm you up just looking at it.

Children in the Garden

From the Conifer Garden, it’s a short walk to the Children’s Garden. Along the way you’ll see some of the season’s first blooms: Snowdrops that dot the path like tiny lampshades and the eye catching purple of early blooming irises. The Children’s Garden is a monument to whimsy, where it’s easy to feel happy. Pay your respects to the couple made of flowerpots sitting at the entrance. But notice how the garden grows flowers in containers other than pots. In addition to the predictable bathroom fixtures, enjoy planters made from an old bicycle, a wood-burning stove, and the cast off corpse of a piano. Everywhere there are games to absorb childhood energy: a crawl through tunnel with a swinging door, evergreens topiaried like teddy bears, and the famous Riddle Rocks; a plaque with riddles posted in the garden. Answers are written on hidden rocks for children to find.

History in the Garden

Next follow your map to the Oak Grove display that contains Oregon Garden’s signature plant: the Heritage Oak. This Oregon White Oak is 400 years old, and was here before pilgrims came to America in 1620. If you visit in the spring, you’ll see this behemoth’s bare branches sweep the ground and rise 100 feet into the air with a Spartan grace seen at no other time of year. The Oak Grove is a sanctuary for other native plants, such as Indian plum, Pacific dogwood, camas, snowberry, and fritillaria. It is also home to a "city of critters," including the chipping sparrow, big brown bat, white-breasted nuthatch, sharptail snake, and pileated and acorn woodpeckers.

Pets in Your Garden at Home

Even early in the season, you can get ideas here for your home garden. From the grandeur of the Oak Grove, follow your map back to the Pet Friendly Garden. Here you’ll learn how to garden for the pets in your life by planting catnip and more. There are also safe attractive ways to keep pets away from plants and ponds you don’t want them in.

Green Tech in the Garden

When you return to the Visitor Center by way of the Wetlands Garden, you’ll learn about the partnership Oregon Garden has with the City of Silverton to re-use treated water. Later in the year, over 300 gallons of water per minute filter through the Wetlands’ terraces and pools and out to a holding tank that irrigates the rest of the site. The fetching little "Bufo" frog sculpture that leaps from one of these ponds is exactly the right symbol for this sustainable project.

Gordon House

After your garden adventure drive to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Gordon House located at the entrance to Oregon Garden. Originally built in Wilsonville, it’s a two-story, red cedar home with 2,133 square feet of floor space for gracious living in a compact area. Wright, an iconoclast and giant of architecture, designed houses that seemed to grow out of the land.

Perforated boards called "fretwork" cover the window glass and filter light like the stained glass windows in Wright’s Prairie homes. Radiant heat comes from hot water piped through the concrete floor. Wright called this style of home Usonian (an abbreviation for United States of North America), and developed it during America’s Great Depression of the 1930s. Usonian homes have fireplaces but no basements or attics, which holds down costs. Tours run on the hour, and reservations are required.

Silverton Lunch and Shopping

Afterwards, you’ll want to visit Silverton and explore the town’s Historic District. Drive to the Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center on S. Water Street and pick up a city map.
Metered parking is available throughout downtown. There’s also a public parking lot on Lewis Street between Water and First Streets.

In addition to businesses, the map pinpoints Silverton’s public murals that highlight local history.
Try the Towne House Restaurant and Lounge on E. Main if you favor American-style food, like steak and burgers, and a relaxed environment. Soup and salad might hit the spot after walking all morning. Savory sandwiches include a "BLTA" (classic BLT with avocado). Silverton’s upscale restaurant is the Silver Grill Café and Wines, also on E. Main. Their reasonably priced gourmet offerings include a duck confit salad and a New York strip au poivre entrée. Both feature locally-grown ingredients.

Silverton is the perfect place to get a jump on seasonal shopping. Whether you want a Mother’s or Father’s Day gift, or presents for other occasions, you’ll find gifts in a wide price range. The Lunaria Gallery on N. Water Street is a cooperative of 26 local artists who offer fabric art, paintings, prints and reproductions, woodcuts, and one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry, including unusual pierced earrings. Their ceramics are stunning: you might see pieces like these displayed in big city galleries.

Scouting for antiques? Don’t miss the Red Bench on N. Water Street for dolls, linens, quilts (with racks), and other home accessories. Across the street is Mayberry’s antiques. Under the same ownership as the Red Bench, it specializes in furniture and large items, including foot lockers, rocking chairs and spinning wheels.

Before you tuck away your treasures and call it a day, stop at the Chocolate Box next door to Mayberry’s. Their handmade truffles, caramel turtles, or buttered toffee would be delightful to nibble on the way home.

What and Where:
Oregon Garden
(879 W. Main St; 503-874-8100)
Gordon House at Oregon Garden
(879 W. Main St; 503-874-6006)
Silverton Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center (426 S. Water St; 503-873-5615)
Towne House Restaurant & Lounge (203 E. Main St; 503-873-2841)
Silver Grill Café and Wines (206 E. Main St; 503-873-4035)
Lunaria Gallery
(113 N. Water St; 503-873-7734)
The Red Bench (205 N. Water St; 503-873-6555)
Mayberry’s Antiques (204 N. Water St; 503-874-1900)
The Chocolate Box (202 N. Water St; 503-873-3225)

Getting There:

From Portland on I-5
Take I-5 S toward Salem for about 37 miles.
Take Exit 271 for State Highway 214 toward Silverton/Woodburn.
Turn left at OR-214 for Molalla/Silverton/Woodburn/Mt. Angel.
Turn right at OR-214/OR 99E.
Turn left at OR-214/Young St. and drive about 11 miles.
Turn right at E. C St/OR-214.
Turn left at OR-214/N. Water St.
Turn right at W. Main St./OR-213.
Watch for Oregon Garden’s brown and white sign. Garden will be on your left.

From Portland on I-205
Take 205 S toward Salem for about 18 miles.
Take Exit 10 toward Molalla.
Merge onto OR-213/Washington St. Opas and drive about 30 miles.
Turn left at OR-213/OR-214/N. Water St.
Turn right at W. Main St./OR-213.
Watch for Oregon Garden’s brown and white sign. Garden will be on your left.

Return to Portland on I-5
(From downtown Silverton)
Get on N 1st St./OR-213/OR-214 heading north, and drive about 11 miles.
Turn right at OR-214/OR99E.
Turn left at Mount Hood Ave./OR-214
Bear right toward I-5 N (for Portland) and drive about 37 miles to Portland.

Return to Portland on I-205
(From downtown Silverton)
Get on Oak St./OR-213 heading north and drive about 30 miles.
Take the ramp to Gladstone/I-205 N/Portland.
Merge onto I-205 N and drive about 18 miles to Portland.