What better way to spend a perfect spring evening than to mosey the sloping pathways and savor the vistas of the idyllic Jane Platt Garden in Portland's Southwest hills? The garden is the backyard to the home of the Platt family, but what a backyard. The house itself is not too shabby: designed and built in 1942 by preeminent Northwest regional modernist architect Pietro Belluschi, it's a gem. But the garden is the star, as owners and architect alike intended.
John and Jane Kerr Platt created the garden from scratch starting in the early 1940s, eventually handing it over to their son David. The whole family – and many gardeners – have tended to its evolution through the decades. Both John and Jane have passed on (Jane a number of years ago, John in January 2013, at the age of 100). Now David and his family live in the modest main house and carry on the family traditions (including shooting woodpeckers who love a particular tree).
On a recent spring evening, a few of us amateur Portland gardeners were lucky enough to get a guided tour from gardener John Borowczak through the private garden. He's lovingly tended the 2 1/2 acres for the Platt family for “a long time.” (Nearing retirement age, he coyly declined to be more specific!)
John Platt was a young bachelor in 1937 when he bought the property, which had been an apple and cherry orchard since the 1880s. He planned to build a home and garden. Platt met and married Jane Kerr, who happened to know a bit about gardening herself. A daughter of Peter Kerr, a successful wheat exporter who was also a gardener, she grew up at what is now one of Portland's most incredible gardens, Elk Rock Garden at Bishop's Close. She (and her sister Anne) got the green gene from her father, who made sure that the ships he sent to the Orient, loaded up with his wheat harvest, would come back filled with Rhododendron and other exotic plants.
Like her father, she was interested in "specimen" plants – that is, unusual and unique plants. She never was a big traveler, but friends who traveled widely would ask her, "what should I bring back for you?" Now, people travel far and wide to see her garden. It is private, but open for occasional tours and special events.
Feel free to walk through the garden in our slide show (click at photo above); photos by Kristin Belz.