JARS v53n2 - The Peter Kerr Garden at Elk Rock: The Garden of the Bishop Close

The Peter Kerr Garden at Elk Rock: The Garden of the Bishop Close
Peter Kendall
Portland, Oregon

In the spring of 1995, the Portland Chapter was honored to host the 50th Anniversary ARS Annual Convention commemorating the founding of the Society. In conjunction with this gathering, we were privileged to visit a number of noteworthy gardens. The garden of Jane Kerr Platt, previewed in the fall 1994 issue of the Journal, was among those visited. The excellence of this garden fell, in no small measure, to the fact that Jane was the daughter of Peter Kerr, a prosperous grain merchant, whose own garden at Elk Rock on the banks of the Willamette River south of Portland, was nothing short of outstanding. As a Scotsman, Peter Kerr came by his horticultural proclivities rightfully. For most of his adult life, until he passed away at the age of 95, Kerr indulged his passion for plants on 13 acres of Elk Rock property which lay in bucolic surroundings with a sublime view of Mt. Hood in the distance. The development of the grounds in 1909 became the commission of John Olmsted, son of the celebrated Frederick Law Olmsted, who had designed Central Park in New York city some 50 years earlier. Kerr meticulously supervised the ensuing project and each year saw a further maturation of elegantly selected and sited plant material. Upon his death, the estate was deeded to the Episcopal Diocese for its use as an administrative headquarters. An endowment was established for the upkeep of the garden which is open to the public.

Peter Kerr's Elk Rock garden
Corylopsis pauciflora in foreground;
Magnolia denudata
and Magnolia
in background.
Photo by Peter Kendall
Helleborus, Lagerstroemia indica, and
Erica carnea 'Springwood White' Magnolia sargentiana robusta
Helleborus , Lagerstroemia indica
(crape myrtle), and Erica carnea
'Springwood White'.
Photo by Peter Kendall
Magnolia sargentiana robusta
Photo by Peter Kendall
Styrax japonicus
Styrax japonicus
Photo by Peter Kendall

The property was and is dominated by large Oregon white oaks which provide an ideal canopy for what lies beneath them. Although a good number of discerningly fine rhododendrons occupy many garden niches, it is the range and exquisite nature of companion trees (particularly magnolias), shrubs and herbaceous material which provide the height of satisfaction. The garden is a supreme enjoyment at all times of the year. The accompanying photographs will hopefully convey something of the garden's mystique.

Peter Kendall, a member of the Portland Chapter, is a frequent contributor to the Journal. His most recent contribution was "Further Ramblings at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh" in the spring 1998 issue.