Client Spotlight: Leach Botanical Garden, Portland’s Sleepy Hollow

For a city that seems to have captured the fascination – and investment dollars – of so many, Portland is still a keeper of beautiful secrets. Leach Botanical Garden is one of these.

Hidden Flower

Having lived in Portland most of my life, I found it a humbling and exciting experience to learn only recently about a place so rich in character and history.

The refuge is located deep in East Portland off of 122nd, just south of Foster Road. Its approach is marked by two gas stations, a mini mart and an automotive shop. Though I felt a little skeptical, I also trusted my navigation app that the garden was less than one thousand feet away. And sure enough, behind a thin curtain of trees, Johnson Creek flows through a small valley, both sides of which are adorned by the terraces and winding paths of the Leach Botanical Garden. The garden mostly contains plant species native to the Pacific Northwest and strikes a pleasant balance: intentional in its layout but not overly curated. Much of the garden – especially the portions along the creek – is essentially natural woodland, springing up in the shade of the 70-year-old third-growth conifers.

Deep Local Roots

In other words, the garden is a beautiful urban green space and well worth the afternoon stroll. But the deeper significance of the garden lies in the history of the property and its previous owners, John and Lilla Leach. The juxtaposition of the Leach Botanical Garden and the urban sprawl along Foster Road wasn’t always the case. Foster Road now serves as an unofficial southern boundary for the easternmost part of Portland, but in 1931 – when John and Lilla purchased four acres for $10 from a Prohibition-era pig farmer doing time in the state pen for bootlegging – Foster Road was an unpaved pioneer road dating back to the 1850s. In those days, 82nd was the city’s eastern limit, and the property was a conveniently located country home.

The Leaches themselves were a true power couple. Lilla, from a pioneer family in nearby Clackamas County, was an independent field botanist who studied at the University of Oregon, and ultimately she is why the Leach Botanical Garden exists today. With John’s help (and the help of their two burros, Pansy and Violet), Lilla went on botanical expeditions throughout every mountain range in the Pacific Northwest. They brought various plant species back to their home, where they had begun to build an ever-developing botanical garden. Lilla was particularly fascinated by the unique microclimate and geology of the Siskiyou Mountains, where she was the first to catalog several species, including a pink flowery shrub that would be named Kalmiopsis leachiana in her honor.

John was a go-getter from a working-class pioneer family in Eastern Oregon, who eventually opened up a successful pharmacy business on 67th and Foster. In an effort to improve traffic to his business, he played an influential role in convincing the city to both pave Foster Road and build the Ross Island Bridge. John also had a genuine humanitarian side. He founded the East Portland YMCA, and during the Great Depression, he helped pay the rent of local families and traded medicine for work in their growing garden.

The Leaches lived on the property, which they named Sleepy Hollow, and cared for the garden until the end of their lives. When they passed, they left the property to the city to operate as a public botanical garden and museum.

Since the 1980s, the garden has been open to the public and managed by the nonprofit Leach Garden Friends. The Manor House at Leach Garden has become a popular setting for weddings and other celebrations. In partnership with Portland Parks and Recreation, Leach Garden Friends offers educational and botanical programs, manages event rentals, and runs a small gift shop. The organization depends on memberships, grants, and donations to maintain their programs, along with the gardens, the Manor House, and other facilities.

But recently the organization has been raising money, doing survey analyses, and holding open houses with the goal of expanding its offerings to the surrounding community. In the next couple years, Leach Garden Friends plans to oversee the construction of a wheelchair-accessible path through parts of the garden, a covered terrace for classes and social gatherings, a pollinator garden, an alpine garden, a children’s garden, an aerial tree-walk, and various other gathering spaces. These added features will allow the Leach Botanical Garden to greatly expand its role as an outdoor-oriented community hub. This is badly needed in a part of Portland that is home to about 25% of the city’s population but less than 10% of the parks.

October 9 through November 11, 2017, Leach Garden Friends is running a crowdfunding project to build the aerial treewalk, as well as support other elements of the first phase of the Leach Garden transformation.  

Ready for Growth

Prior to working with Revolution Accounting and Advisory, Leach Garden Friends kept its books for operations and rentals in separate Quickbooks files and used an outside bookkeeper and a lot of paper-based processes to wrangle the accounting and payroll. The dependence on older technology meant basic monthly financial statements could take months to be delivered and tracking down supporting files was a headache.

Revolution Accounting moved all of Leach Garden’s accounting into the cloud, using Sage Intacct to pull together the funds and revenue streams into a comprehensive view for the director and the board. The collaborative cloud accounting and information management provided by Revolution Accounting through Sage Intacct, Gusto payroll, and have transformed the financials of the garden and are an important tool of the new fundraising effort. Working with Revolution Accounting has allowed Leach Garden Friends to integrate the financial reporting into a digital dashboard that is accessible to stakeholders in a transparent, timely, and credible way. More robust accounting software means that dimensional data can be pulled out quickly to answer specific questions, solve problems, and take care of the financial reporting required of nonprofits.

These services are also key to the garden’s expanded role in the community. The Leach Botanical Garden is a truly unique place, and with the help of Leach Garden Friends and Revolution Accounting’s partnership, the organization is set for a new stage of growth and assures that the legacy of John and Lilla Leach lives on.

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