Magnolia sargentiana var rubra

The Bishop’s Close (Elk Rock Gardens) in the Dunthorpe neighborhood is one of the city’s best kept secrets. The garden and house – once in private hands, now housing the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon – date back to the beginning of the last century. The garden is beautifully maintained and is open to the public for visiting year-round.

Have you ever been?

I just returned from an impromptu visit and am again full of appreciation for the charm of the place. There are numerous ancient specimens of trees and shrubs – it’s a great place to see just how big various shrubs and trees can get in time. I’m thinking of the garden’s giant Japanese paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha ), which is at least six feet tall and eight feet wide, but there are hundreds of trees and shrubs, both rare and classic. It’s great to see specimens gaining stature in a park-like setting instead of growing through each other in the cramped confines of small city lots.

I didn’t have time to walk up into the native madrone woods on the hill beyond the garden – if you go, do allow at least an hour for the garden and the walk up the hill, which takes you to some spectacular views of the Willamette River.

Instead of giving you all the details, let me just show you a bit of what I saw today. (See slideshow.) Late winter is just one of many lovely seasons in this remarkable garden. It sparkles in early winter, when huge, lichen-encrusted witch hazel (Hamamelis sp. ) are in blossom on the upper terrace and, down below, the winter aconites shine in sheets of gold under the trees. Autumn is also spectacular, when the autumn leaves turn burgundy, red, orange and brilliant gold. I love the rockery in winter, when the conifers take on rosy or rusty winter hues. Now, it is magnolia season and there are some venerable old trees still in spectacular flower. Drink it in while you can.

The gardens are open to the public from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily – but are closed some holidays. For more information about opening hours, call 503.636.5613.