The Duncan Plan

The Duncan Plan

Hoyt Arboretum continues to broaden its tree collection each year based on the 1930 landscape design by John W. Duncan.

Duncan was a horticulturist and landscape designer. He was heavily influenced by the tradition established by Frederick Law Olmsted in his plan for America’s premier arboretum, Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum in Boston.  Duncan had immigrated to the United States from Scotland when he was 18 years old, after serving as an apprentice to his father who was the manager for a large estate and gardens in Aberdeenshire. For the next 15 years, Duncan managed various estates in Massachusetts and Connecticut. In the early 20th century, he served as Assistant Superintendent of Boston’s parks and then moved on to the superintendency of Spokane’s parks in 1909 where he managed a system of parks of over 1000 acres, including the Finch Arboretum. By this time, he had become one of the country’s most knowledgeable plantsmen.

The Arboretum’s founders commissioned Duncan to design a plan for Portland’s arboretum.  In 1930, Duncan completed a plan for what would become Hoyt Arboretum. The plan provided specific locations for nearly 40 plant families of conifers (gymnosperms) and flowering trees (angiosperms), and envisioned over 500 species. As befitted Portland’s climate and timber heritage, much of the emphasis was on the Conifer Collections which comprised more than a third of the collections.

Duncan used Fairview Boulevard to divide the Arboretum into two major collections grouped by families. The needle-bearing coniferous collection can be found to the west of Fairview and the flowering trees to the east and south. Much of the  tree collection can still be located using the original map plan of 1930.

Today, the Duncan Plan remains the foundation for all of the Arboretum’s tree collections but the number of species exceeds 1000 and it is envisioned that as many as several more thousand species will be planted here eventually.

You can see a full size copy of the original blueprint in the Bill deWeese classroom in the Visitor Center.

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