So today I have déjà vu all over again as I wander alone with my umbrella through lovely Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden in a driving April rain. This beautiful park just south of Reed College in southeast Portland is a lovely place to stroll any time of year—even when it’s not raining. But I highly recommend going on a wet spring day when the flowers are out and dripping with raindrops.
Just in case you didn’t know, west of the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest we grow some of the most beautiful, extravagant rhododendrons in the world. And yes, we do have native rhodies here, although they grow in natural woodlands, like on the slopes of Mount Hood below timberline. Crystal Springs Garden features mostly hybrids, along with azaleas and various other understory flowers and native shrubs.
“Are there many rhodies in bloom yet?” I ask at the entrance.
“Yes, there are some in bloom now, but everything is about three weeks late this year, so it will be better in a few weeks,” the attendant tells me.
After paying the paltry entrance fee of only $3 (and $1 for a booklet guide), I meander across a wooden bridge and down a pathway to a coursing stream and waterfall. With natural springs, ponds, and lake, lots of waterfowl hang out in this park.
Beneath some of the rhodies are sweet hellebores, snowdrops, and a few other flowers I can’t identify. (My mother was the botanist in the family, not me.)
Walking in the rain past beds of mature rhododendrons and ponds fed by natural springs, I’m five years old all over again. It’s just me and the rain and the rhodies. And plenty of ducks, swans, and geese.
When You Go
The park is open from April through September from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 'til 6 p.m. the rest of the year. There is no admission fee after 6 p.m. and during the fall and winter. Planning a wedding or a private party? You can reserve and have a catered event at Crystal Springs. Although Crystal Springs is a City of Portland park, it’s maintained by mostly volunteers from the Rhododendron Society.