The Lilac Garden at Duniway Park
In 1936 a generous Portland Garden club member purchased and donated, in the name of The Portland Garden Club, 167 lilac plants from the B.O. Case collection of lilacs.
“B.O. Case, a nurseryman in SW Washington, had an important collection of lilacs. 243 varieties were numbered among a total of 800 plants. Case died in 1936 and the collection was offered for sale. The widely known collection attracted eager prospective buyers from Seattle and elsewhere in the Northwest. Mrs. M. Matthiessen, an active member of the Portland Garden Club, urged that the collection be purchased for the city. Negotiating for the club she purchased the collection for two thousand dollars…the club then employed an out of state lilac expert to come to Portland to advise on the site selection, planning and transfer of the lilacs.” (notes from the Garden Club history)
The garden was built in 1938 in Duniway Park which is itself built over Marquam Gulch, a major drainage off the east slope of Portland’s West Hills. A map of the original planting indicates that the lilacs were placed in 12 beds. A second major contribution to the garden was made in 1948 when 175 plants were added from the estate of the late Sid Woodbury. An additional four beds were added to the garden at this time.
The Lilac Garden came under the care of Portland Parks & Recreation in the following years and the connection to The Portland Garden Club was forgotten. In 2012, when doing some research on the Parks website, a PGC member found an obscure article about the garden’s origin: The Lilac Garden at Duniway Park would be a perfect all club community outreach project for the 300 plus members of the club! In March 2014 The Portland Garden Club approved the proposal of the Community Outreach committee to make The Lilac Garden at Duniway Park an all club project that offers a broad range of activities that appeal to the diverse talents of its members. By partnering with Portland Parks & Recreation the PGC can offer a range of assistance with more community impact.
The Portland Garden Club has created a vision document with the goal of “making The Lilac Garden at Duniway Park one of Portland’s special exhibit gardens and a premier garden in the Northwest.” To that effect our members have been working tirelessly to bring the garden back. Pruning, weeding, edging, mapping, identifying, planting new lilacs and adding underplantings to the current 14 beds is overseen by a Lilac Garden steering committee. Work parties and field trips to the garden occur regularly. Hort groups are “adopting” beds as their individual community outreach project. Our relationship with PP&R is excellent and we are working together on major projects such as drainage, parking, signage and design.