Portland Garden Walk, The River Walk and Departures

She Said

Today’s Agenda:  Portland Garden Tour West

        Waterfront Loop

        Departure Bar and Restaurant


What could possibly be better than a day of touring gardens, hiking, and eating?  My husband has said that I have three passions: gardening, my children, and him.  He grumbles that he is third in the ranking.  When he cannot locate me in the house, he looks outside and frequently finds me crouched among my plants. He insists that I spend so much time with my flowers, that I am turning into one.  I admit it. I am obsessively passionate about gardening. It is my raison d’etre.

For the last few years we have been participating in the Portland Garden Tour West, benefiting Ainsworth Elementary School. The tour features five gardens in Portland’s West Hills.  Living on the eastside of the city, the tour is also a legitimate excuse to voyeuristically explore the Westside lifestyle of the rich and famous.  While Portland is a fabulous city for gardening, our clay soil, steep hills and shady evergreens are natural forces we must reckon with.  The tour is a great way to see how other gardeners manage these challenges in their backyards.  

In one of the gardens, a family who spent three years removing ivy from the forest behind their home and then worked with the Backyard Habitat Certification Program to return the forest to its natural state by using native plants.  This program requires an application and then a site assessment by a Backyard Habitat Technician who helps identify invasive plants and makes native plant recommendations. In a city whose forests are being taken over by ivy, it was inspiring to see a family that decided to do something about it. Every little bit helps.

Another garden gem was a farmstead that dated back to 1919.  Since I grew up on a farm in Southern Minnesota, it seems to be in my DNA to be drawn to the large open spaces with pastoral views. This particular garden had a huge Pin Oak tree in the front yard with a rope swing and two acres of a sheep pasture.  Hard to believe that we were in the city.  The fortunate owner of the property of is the grandson of the original owner.  While the original house was replaced four years ago by a not so standard farmhouse, the owners preserved and salvaged many of the trees, shrubs and and roses.   The homeowner provided several informative placards throughout the yard that recounted childhood memories, as well as gardening challenges faced during the restoration of the property.  I loved the grace and informality of this yard and the fact that the tomatoes in my yard look much better than this yard’s tomatoes–yes, call me the “petty gardener.”  

Another yard featured a tropical garden with an infinity pool and a cool casual pool house. Who hasn’t dreamed of a secret garden room or pool house?  This pool house was mostly glass with a large couch and a window bed that looked out and down the hillside of the house.  Sweet dreams.

My least favorite gardens were properties created and maintained by hired professionals. To me, it is a matter of gardener’s pride to design and, at least mostly care for, your own garden. Hiring a professional to do the bulk of the gardening is just plain cheating. Real gardeners must sweat, curse, and endure dirt stained fingernails to earn that beautiful yard.  Here are some photos that tour my own garden:

Kerry's Garden

Kerry’s Garden

Kerry's Garden

Kerry’s Garden

Kerry's Garden

Kerry’s Garden

Kerry's Garden

Kerry’s Garden

It was such a beautiful day, that I just could not fathom going indoors quite yet.  The Waterfront and Eastbank Esplanade Loop would be our next stop.  While I mostly really like this 2.7 mile walk, the Eastbank takes one along a freeway and beneath bridges, so it can be quite loud.  The Westbank takes one along Waterfront Park.  In-between are the Willamette river and the Hawthorne, Morrison, and Steele bridges.  This is a great park for anyone and any age because it is mostly flat.  The path is laced with native plants and some really cool sculptures inspired by the surrounding landscape from local artists.  The path is mostly concrete, but there are some sections that float on the river which creates a nice walking sensation.  There are interpretive posts along the loop with historical information about the area.  Bikers are also welcome to the trail, but there is a fair amount of foot traffic, so do not expect a fast ride.

I had recently been avoiding the Waterfront loop because of some fairly aggressive, unkempt, and loud gang-like groups of people who appeared to be under the influence and hung out on the Westbank. These individuals were not exactly family friendly.  However, the city must have taken notice because this was not evident this time around.  

The loop is walking distance to downtown shopping, eating and drinking.  Why not cap off a perfect sunny day at Departure, a restaurant and lounge on the 15th floor of The Nines Hotel? In the heart of downtown Portland, the hotel was originally the old 1908 Meier and Frank building.  The restaurant and outdoor lounge, offer some of the best views of the city.  With its modern space-age decor, it is also one of the best looking restaurants in the city.  It is a unique and special dining experience.  My eldest son complains this place reeks of a Vegas wanna be, which is so un-Portlandia.  But I find Departures to be a wonderful afternoon getaway. Sitting on its roof and eating on a sunny day was exhilarating.  

Departures cuisine is Asian inspired, so there are plenty of vegetarian options.  I happily devoured the carrot and rhubarb salad.  At $13, it was spendy and a very small serving but really fresh and delicious.  Cocktails are also pricey.  I ordered the Elixir of Life ($12) with vodka, St. Germain, prickly pear and lemon.  It was refreshing after a day of being outdoors.  

He Said

Garden Tour

Every year we like to do the Portland Garden Tour, a fundraiser for Ainsworth Elementary School. People open their gardens up to the public.

Kerry’s main passion is gardening, as you can tell from above and a little of it has rubbed off on me. My only worry is the chipper-shredder I got her this year. She keeps rewatching the end of Fargo. Then she looks at me.  Then she watches Fargo. Kind of nerve wracking.

I always enjoy the tour in the more expensive parts of West Portland and there are some tremendous gardens. But for me it is just a pleasant stroll in  nice settings.  And it is always fun to peek in the windows of the houses and see how the 0.1% live. But Kerry’s garden is better. Really.

Waterfront Park – Eastbank Esplanade

After wandering the gardens  at the tiring Mall pace we needed a real constitutional and it has been awhile since we did the river walk.    It has need cleaned up a bit since we were last there, the homeless young dope smokers are no longer clustered around the north end cherry blossom trees and they may actually be less trash.

Always a nice flat 2.5 mile walk,  we had always walked it counterclockwise before but I think it is best to do clockwise.  The walk offers a nice view of the river, the city, Mt. Hood and the bridges. The people walking the river are Portlandia at it’s purest.

Portland is looking increasingly dumpy and worn, a slightly unkempt city, like a single man on the verge of dementia, slovenly but you can see the man who once was underneath the bad shave, too long hair and frayed clothes. At least when compared to Portland of the past that exists in my memory.  As I have said before, PDX may be the City that Works, but when it comes to cleaning up trash it works about as hard as a teenage boy cleaning up his bedroom and with similar results.

It gets a bit loud along I-5 for conversation but the path is mostly flat and warm in the sun. The east side has some clever construction to make complete a loop, one section a pontoon path that rises and falls with the river level and another section that is a platform built into the wall.

There are geese and ducks and fish and humans of all sorts to observe.  One day I hope to see an eagle, which I have seen around Ross Island.

And when done walking you have all of downtown to choose from for dining.


A beautiful fall afternoon deserves outside dining with a view, so we opted for Departure at the top of what for me will always be the downtown Meier & Frank building.

It is an interesting place. The atmosphere reminds me a bit of Vegas, although not top of the line Vegas. Lots of purple and the waitress dress looks like it came off the deck of the Enterprise. Kirk/Spock/McCoy Enterprise. Many of the patrons look like they belong in Vegas, again not top of the line Vegas, but wanna be’s, more Golden Nugget than The Wynn.  Certainly there is less Portlandia at this location than the rest of the city; it is why my eldest hates the place.

Me? My rule is to enjoy things for what they are rather than what you want them to be, so I went with the low end Vegas vibe. The only problem is all the mirrors on the walls make it hard to navigate the halls without running into a wall, especially after a cocktail or two.

The views of the city sitting outside are wonderful, although a building perfectly blocks Mt. Hood.

The drinks were fine. The cocktails were weak; nothing special in terms of flavor. I had the Shadow Warrior (buffalo trace bourbon, cointreau, lemon, honey, prosecco) and it was underwhelming. The beer came in a glass that I bet was a few ounces short of a full pint, although the menu does not specifically mention the word pint.

The food, though, is delicious, mostly riffs on Asian cuisine. I had grilled Japanese flank steak with garlic and Shumai, dim sum of pork dumplings, vinegar shoyu and sharp Chinese mustard. Small servings and kind of pricy for the size, but you always pay a premium at restaurants that have a view or are associated with Hotels, and Departure is both.

The dessert? Goodness gracious great balls of fire, order the dark chocolate brownie cake with peanut brittle, miso caramel and banana ice cream, dotted with little domes of browned meringue.

I like Departure. It is certainly a departure from the usual Portland oeuvre. The service was friendly and efficient. Stick with beer or wine over their cocktail menu. The food is delicious if a bit pricy for the size and the view looking East from the deck as the sun sets cannot be beat.  Overall the slight minuses are more than compensated by the pluses.

Now it they just had slots in the lobby…

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