A Photographer Looks at Hoyt Arboretum

Through the Lens

By: Saxon Holt

Saxon Holt is a professional garden photographer who contributes regularly to Pacific Horticulture and is widely published in books such as Hardy Succulents, The…

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Fall color on Cotinus ‘Grace’ tall shrub underneath looking up, Hoyt Arboretum

It is way too easy to forget that Pacific Coast gardens can have wonderful fall color. But not after my visit to Hoyt Arboretum in Portland, which becomes a wonderland in autumn. Hoyt Arboretum’s collection of trees and shrubs, began in 1931, is a living museum for conservation and research. Much of the Arboretum features conifers so it’s easy to find the colorful deciduous shrubs along the 12 miles of trails.

Crossing the garden I found myself drawn, like a moth to light, to a large grove of smoke bush, Cotinus ‘Grace’. These plants don’t get this big in California. I took this photo from within the grove looking up. The leaves are backlit and the carefully composed dark branches created a framework like that of an abstracted stained glass window. It was exhilarating to be bathed in that golden light while I worked.

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) fall foliage and branch pattern, Hoyt Arboretum

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is a reliable shrub for fall color in many climates, and here in Portland they grow to the size of small trees. The conical spikes of red fruit play wonderfully with the compound-pinnate leaves; studying the branch pattern allows the photographer an excuse to contemplate the interconnected patterns of orange and gold.

Autumn berries clockwise from upper left: Sorbus commixta, Sorbus alnifolia, Ilex aquifolium ‘Argentea-Marginata’, Cotoneaster cinerascens, in Hoyt Arboretum, Portland Oregon

No visit to the Arboretum in autumn would be complete without stopping to admire the berries. Discovering the subtle shades of red, magenta, and orange, will give you the excuse to wander Hoyt Arboretum for hours.


Hoyt Arboretum
Washington Park, 4000 SW Fairview Blvd., Portland, Oregon.
Open from 5 am to 9:30 pm daily; admission is free.
www.hoytarboretum.org