Get back to mother nature in the Grotto’s Upper Gardens

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A visitor admires the Our Sorrowful Mother statue's base in the Upper Level Gardens at The Grotto in NE Portland. Jaime Dunkle/PSU Vanguard

The Grotto’s Upper Level Gardens are one of Portland’s largest forested areas.

The 62-acre nature sanctuary mounts the north face of Rocky Butte, one of Portland’s Boring volcanoes, making it one of the most scenic viewpoints in the city. In the Upper Level Gardens, visitors are immersed in varied foliage, not religiosity. It’s also inexpensive and easily accessible via transit.

Douglas firs fill the manicured gardens 110 feet above the plaza level of The Grotto. Panoramic views of the Columbia River Valley and Mt. St. Helens can be seen from various vantage points, namely through the bow windows in the Meditation Chapel overlooking the Rocky Butte cliff.

Although The Grotto—or the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother—is a world-renowned Catholic Shrine, the emphasis is deliberately on nature when entering the Upper Level Gardens. The elevator taking you from the plaza to the upper level even tells you as much. Skeptical would-be visitors need not worry about religious iconography bombarding them at every twist of the garden’s pathways.

For those who are reluctant to visit a Catholic nature preserve, the gardens only house small handful of statues.

In fact, the garden only includes three shrines: the Lithuanian Wayside Shrine, Our Lady of Czestochowa Polish Shrine, and the Dambana, Filipino Faith Shrine. The remaining religious pieces are minimal, including the Mysteries of the Rosary bronze plaques and the Via Matris wood carvings.

Additional buildings can be found along the paths. A serene rose garden guards the private Servite Monastery, built in 1936, where Servite Friars live, according to The Grotto’s website. A small chapel to St. Anne also rests in the gardens, open to guests.

Going back to nature, flower lovers will find Vinca minor, astilbe, begonia, bleeding heart, Solomon’s seal, Madonna lily rhododendron, azalea and Viburnum davidii all in bloom this May; and Vinca minor, iris, impatiens, marguerite, rose campion, foxglove, dicentra, lilies, rhododendron, spirea, lilac and roses this June, according to The Grotto’s website where each month’s blossoms are listed.

The gardens also have two ponds and a meditation labyrinth modeled after the labyrinth made in the 1200s in Chartes Cathedral outside of Paris, France, according to the booklet A Self-Guided Tour available in the gift shop.

The Grotto’s upper gardens include panoramic vistas, an array of plant life, meditation spaces and even the ambient sounds of babbling brooks. So when Mt. Tabor and Forest Park become old hats, walk through mother nature’s cliff-high upper gardens at The Grotto for a change.

The Grotto is located at 8840 NE Skidmore St. in Portland, and can be accessed via Trimet bus number 12.

For more information call The Grotto at 503-254-7371.

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