William S. Ladd, who served two terms as the mayor of Portland in the 1800s, was the original owner of the property. He called it Crystal Springs Farm. The oldest rhododendron in the current garden was planted prior to 1917.
The development of a display and test garden was initiated in 1950 by the Portland Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society. Sam Jackson, owner of the Oregon Journal, had donated 27 acres on Terwilliger Blvd for the garden, but the site was deemed unsuitable because of its steep terrain. Claude I. Sersanous, one of the group assigned to select a new site, suggested the garden's present location near Reed College. Referred to as Shakespeare Island by Reed College students because of the Shakespearean plays that had been performed there, it was abandoned and overgrown with brush and blackberries. Through the efforts of Portland Chapter members and other volunteers, and with the support of Park Superintendent C.P. Keyser, the garden flourished. The first rhododendron show was held in 1956, and the garden was officially named Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden in 1964.
Originally, the garden was developed as a test garden, which meant that new rhododendrons could be evaluated over a period of several years. Lack of security and adequate protection made this impractical and the concept was dropped. The original garden, on what is now called the Island, was designed by Ruth Hansen, a landscape architect and Portland Chapter member. The portion of the garden known as the Peninsula was designed by Wallace K. Huntington, a well-known Portland landscape architect, and was dedicated in 1977. The rocks used to build the waterfalls and other features were gathered from Mt Hood and Mt Adams.
The more than 2,500 rhododendrons, azaleas, and companion plants in the garden have all been donated by volunteers and interested individuals, or purchased with specially donated funds. Beginning in early spring and continuing into summer, they provide a magnificent display of color, giving visitors the opportunity to view many varieties rarely seen in the Pacific Northwest. During the fall, many companion trees add dramatic coloring. Spring-fed Crystal Springs Lake surrounds much of the garden, attracting many species of birds and waterfowl.
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