After escaping winter’s icy grip, spring in the Mid-Willamette Valley feels like a time of rebirth. The season’s first crops begin to sprout, ice and snow give way to sun breaks and rain showers, and gardens are awash in color. The changing season offers the chance to experience those colorful displays in a variety of ways.

For some, that means family outings at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival; for others, it means trips to the nursery—sometimes twice a weekend—to help spruce up the backyard garden.

So as you make plans for spring—whether you want to see colors that pop or find ideas for your own plot at home—here are seven gorgeous gardens and nurseries to visit throughout the mid-Willamette Valley.

Berry picking, family activities, city of independence

1. Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm & Festival

The beloved Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival, a Willamette Valley institution since 1985, has returned this spring after being forced into a hiatus in 2020.

The year-long layoff gave festival organizers the chance to learn from other outdoor attractions and plan the safest festival possible, says Cassidy VanDomelen, social media and marketing coordinator with Iverson Family Farms (home of the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival).

She says festival organizers looked at everything from the Oregon Zoo to Christmas tree farms and pumpkin patches to see how an outdoor event—especially one as popular as the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival—could accommodate visitors while creating a fun environment. “That’s given us a lot of guidance on how to proceed and freedom within this season to feel safer,” VanDomelen says.

One of the biggest changes this year is the requirement that all attendees purchase their tickets through the official festival website ahead of time; no tickets are sold at the farm. Other attractions are being scaled back or curtailed altogether in 2021—tram and hay wagon rides are dependent on Oregon state guidance, for example – but the heart of the festival remains.

In all, a pair of 20-acre tulip fields are available for festival-goers to photograph, walk through, and enjoy. A handful of food vendors are also on hand to serve barbecue, pizza, doughnuts, coffee, and more—and local beer and estate-grown wine is available, as well.

The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival is open daily and runs through May 2.

2. Sebright Gardens

With drizzly springs and occasionally overcast summers, we in the mid-Willamette Valley understand the importance of shade-tolerant plants. Fortunately, Sebright Gardens specializes in just such a need.

Sebright Gardens carries nearly 1,000 varieties of hosta, six of which are Sebright creations; the plant is known for thriving in the shade and is noted for its vivid foliage. Would-be gardeners can also browse more than 150 varieties of hardy fern and 120 varieties of epimedium, recognizable for its four-parted flower.

In all, Sebright boasts four acres of botanical display gardens for visitors to walk through, as well as a large selection of fuchsias, small trees, and shrubs.

3. Martha Springer Botanical Garden and Rose Garden

Since 1988, the Martha Springer Botanical Garden and Rose Garden has existed as a kind of hidden gem on the campus of Willamette University in Salem. Named in honor of a longtime biologist at the school, the long, narrow garden sits behind the athletic building on campus and actually comprises 12 smaller gardens.

For those in on the secret, the garden offers a quiet respite from the busy campus surrounding it.

In all, the one-acre garden is home to a variety of plants, including English perennial plantings, several rose varieties, and numerous plants native to Oregon. Other attractions include a robust butterfly habitat (especially in summer), an alpine rock garden, and Japanese garden area.

Flower garden at martha springer botanical garden

4. The Oregon Garden

Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2021, The Oregon Garden has become a premier outdoor attraction in the mid-Willamette Valley. In all, the massive botanical garden comprises 80 acres and has earned widespread acclaim for its reflection of the Pacific Northwest’s immense beauty.

A total of 20 gardens enchant visitors with a variety of displays, all connected by four miles of wheelchair-accessible paths. The Amazing Water Garden, for instance, is a circular water garden that’s home to an ornate bridge and cascading waterfall. Meanwhile, the Home Demonstration Garden is made up of a series of smaller gardens — and is designed to inspire gardeners at home. And the Lewis and Clark Garden takes visitors back in time by displaying many of the botanical finds that Lewis and Clark noted on their Corps of Discovery journey in the early 1800s.

5. Schreiner’s Iris Garden

When the Schreiner family looked to move its nascent iris-growing business out of Minnesota in the early 1940s, it looked far and wide for a new home base. But in the end, after testing a few disparate regions, the family settled on the mid-Willamette Valley—and has been a mainstay in the area since 1946.

Liz Schmidt, president of Schreiner’s Iris Garden, says the Willamette Valley is uniquely suited to growing irises. The rich, volcanic soil is full of nutrients, summer temperatures rarely reach unbearable highs, and a steady diet of light springtime rain allows the plants to soak up the moisture they need to grow and bloom. “That little strip of the Willamette Valley is so plentiful,” she says.

Visitors can see the bounty for themselves when Schreiner’s Iris Garden opens its doors between Mother’s Day Weekend and May 31—typically, the high season for iris blooms.

Schreiner’s Iris Garden will sell timed tickets online to help keep crowds safe and to comply with established guidance. Details are still being worked out, but visitors can visit the Schreiner’s Iris Garden website for full details and to purchase tickets. That way, Schmidt says visitors will enjoy a quieter, peaceful experience where visitors can admire the colorful blooms. “It’s going to be beautiful,” she says.

6. Inspiration Garden

Since 2013, the appropriately named Inspiration Garden has offered home gardeners the chance to learn more about best practices—and, yes, get inspired—on a plot that measures just over seven acres in the city of Independence.

The garden largely acts as a kind of outdoor classroom where home gardeners can see, study, and learn about best practices and the latest in horticultural research—especially as it relates to growing in the Willamette Valley. A variety of trees, an oak savannah, several varieties of rose, fruits and vegetables, and more are all on display.

But for all the garden’s beauty, perhaps nothing is quite as poignant as the ginkgo tree at the heart of the Peace Garden; the tree was grown from a seed that survived the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.

Other attractions include benches and plentiful wildlife, such as shorebirds frolicking in (and around) a nearby creek. A wheelchair-accessible paved path runs through the gardens, as well.

7. Dancing Oaks Nursery and Gardens

When you’re looking to take a worldly approach to your garden, look no further than Dancing Oaks Nursery and Gardens, nestled in the Oregon Coast Range foothills just west of Salem.

Dancing Oaks prides itself on growing unusual trees, shrubs, and perennials from around the world; the nursery’s selection includes a variety of maple and fir trees, cherry trees, a bamboo forest, and multiple greenhouses to showcase its eclectic selection. The Dancing Oaks display garden also showcases hundreds of mature specimens.