Sunday, November 6, 2011

Portland Japanese Garden in the fall: part 1

In the summer of 2010, I visited the Portland Japanese Garden for the first time. I wrote a 3-part article (1 2 3) that became the most-read post on my blog. This past weekend I made a return trip to Portland to photograph the fall colors.

I took over 300 photos and even after thorough editing I have almost 70 photos that I want to show you. I’m breaking this post up into three parts, each one covering different areas of the garden. Since my initial 3-part post already went into the history of the Portland Japanese Garden and Japanese garden design in general, I’m going to keep my commentary to a minimum and let the photos speak for themselves.

As you will see, some trees were at their peak, while others were just past and yet others had just started to turn. Overall, though, the garden was so beautiful that I stopped a time or two just to remind myself that this was a real place, not some computer-generated fantasy land. With far fewer people to contend with than last summer, I fell into an almost hypnotic state as I was photographing one stunning scene after another. Truly, this is one of the most serene and quietly spectacular places I’ve ever visited.

In part 1, I will take you from the Antique Gate at the parking lot level to the main entrance, and down through the Strolling Pond Garden to the Tea Garden. This map on the Garden’s web site will help you visualize the layout.

Antique Gate at the base of the hill where the parking lot is located. From here you take a short (500 ft.) but fairly steep trail through the forest up to the actual entrance.
Caution sign at Antique Gate
Just inside the Antique Gate: bamboo fence in the ryôanji-gaki style…
…mileage marker from the ancient road from Kyoto to Edo (now Tokyo)…
…and a water basin in the shape of a lotus flower. Each entrance typically has a basin for the symbolic act of cleansing, which serves to calm the senses of visitors as they leave the outside world behind upon entry to the garden.
Trail up to the entrance gate
Coast pine (Pinus contorta) at entry gate.
Pines are revered in Japanese culture as symbols of courage.
Coast pine (Pinus contorta) in front of the restrooms
The 18 ft. Sapporo pagoda lantern was a gift from Portland’s sister city Sapporo in 1963. This two-ton stone pagoda has five tiers representing the five elements (earth, water, fire, wind, space or ether); the nine rings on top represent the Buddhist concept of nine heavens; and the lotus blossom on the very top represents Buddha.

Walking down the hill from the Sapporo pagoda, you enter the Strolling Pond Garden comprising an Upper Pond and Lower Pond. They are connected by a stream spanned by the Moon Bridge (which in my rapture I forget to photograph up close).

Strolling Pond Gardens allowed the wealthy to go on leisurely strolls through a tightly controlled landscape that represented an idealized representation of nature. On large estates, the ponds were small lakes, and the gardens were often viewed from boats.

At the top of the Strolling Pond Garden, this lace-leaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’) is one the most beautiful specimens I’ve ever seen
The same lace-leaf Japanese maple up close.
As you can see, the branch structure is incredibly intricate.
Detail of low bamboo fence seen above, with ground-cover bamboo (Pleioblastus sp.)
View of Moon Bridge and Upper Pond in the Strolling Pond Garden
Bronze cranes on the edge of the Upper Pond
Filigree trunks and branches of unidentified conifer
Beech tree and Western sword fern (Polystichum munitum)
Harp tuner lantern (kotoji doro) at the stream that connects the Upper and Lower Pond in the Strolling Pond Garden. One leg of the lantern is in the water, the other is on land, symbolizing the interconnectedness between the two.
Lower Pond in the Strolling Pond Garden with snow-viewing lantern (yukimi doro) on the right
Lower Pond with Heavenly Falls
Japanese maple ablaze above soft mounds of shrubbery
Buried-post lantern and lotus-shaped water bowl

The Tea Garden is a quiet, contemplative space leading from the outside world to the Tea House within. The Tea Garden consists of an outer and inner garden; walking along the path with its carefully placed stepping stones allows visitors to get into the proper frame of mind for the spiritual ceremony waiting in the Tea House. (For a more detailed description of both the Tea Garden and the Tea House, click here.)

Gate allowing visitors to view the Tea House up close
Bamboo next to the tea house, which—like the Inner Tea Garden—is off limits to the public
Stone well in the Outer Tea Garden. Notice the traditional pulley apparatus and the bamboo cover. The pulley would have been used to haul water from the well, to be used for the tea ceremony.
Beautiful specimens of Japanese maples abound…
…like here in the Outer Tea Garden
Gate leading from the Outer Tea Garden back out to the Strolling Pond Garden
The same gate up close. The granite slabs came from the entry steps to the Portland Civic Auditorium which were removed as part of a renovation project.
Wall surrounding portions of the Tea Garden. The moss-covered rocks are so perfect, they almost look fake! After seeing so many fantastic rocks, I have major rock and moss envy. Unfortunately, moss dries up quickly in our climate, and we would never be able to preserve this look.

Related posts:

  • Portland Japanese Garden: Design
  • Portland Japanese Garden: Plants
  • Portland Japanese Garden: Ornaments
  • Portland Japanese Garden in the fall: Part 1 (this post)
  • Portland Japanese Garden in the fall: Part 2
  • Portland Japanese Garden in the fall: Part 3

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pebbled tiger jaws (Faucaria tuberculosa)

One of the plants I brought home from the recent Succulent Gardens Extravaganza (see here and here) was this unusual South African succulent in a puny 2-inch container:

Some of the plants I brought back from the Succulent Gardens Extravaganza

Its botanical name is Faucaria tuberculosa, but I find its common name much more interesting: pebbled tiger jaws. Taking a closer look at the plant, I can definitely see how the small white tubercles could remind someone of teeth.

Over time, Faucaria tuberculosa forms a small colony and will eventually look as beautiful as these specimens. This is a plant I want to enjoy up close so I’ll keep it potted, hoping that it will some day fill a small shallow bowl.

Planting it in the ground might not work too well here in Davis anyway since it doesn’t seem to be too hardy. In all likelihood, a light frost is all it can take (the literature is a bit vague on this subject). If I keep it in a pot, I can easily move it to the front porch together with the dozen of other frost-sensitive plants I have somehow managed to accumulate.

The reason why I’m writing about my tiger jaws today is that much to my surprise it has started to bloom! The flower is a bit squished, but it’s still a cheerful sight at a time of year when not much else is in flower.

Often it’s the small things (including small plants) that give you the biggest jolt of excitement!

Faucaria tuberculosa flower. The dried black parts on the left are the remnants of old flowers.
Faucaria tuberculosa
In this photo it’s easy to see the white tubercles that resemble teeth or spines.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Today has been a particularly windy day. I love watching the leaves chasing each other across the street but my eyes don’t appreciate all the grit suspended in the air—the bane of all contact-lens wearers.

I decided to take a video of the three clumping bamboos in front of our house: Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr,’ Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata,’ and Bambusa oldhamii. If you click through to YouTube, you can select a higher resolution.

Isn’t it beautiful how the culms move in the wind? The tallest culms haven’t even fully leafed out yet, otherwise they would sway even harder.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Ghost plant redux

Happy Halloween, everybody!

I was trying to think of a gardening- or plant-related topic that goes with Halloween. Then, as I stepped out the front door and saw the bowl of Graptopetalum paraguyense, I had it: ghost plant! That’s a pretty fitting plant to write about on Halloween.

I bought this particular specimen in late January, plopped it into a shallow bowl and set it by the front door where it gets bright light but very little direct sun. It has thrived in this sheltered location, and its leaves are light turquoise and pale purple hues (very hard to render accurately in digital images).


While the bowl is to the side of the walkway, people—and especially our dog—sometime bump into the ghost plant. Its leaves fall off at the slightest touch, so this isn’t really the best spot for it. For months I’ve been thinking of moving it; however, since I do enjoy looking at it every time I come through the front door, it’s still in the same place.

Graptopetalum paraguyense is a prolific grower so any leaves that break off are soon replaced. Just take a look at the yellow areas in the next two photos. Miniature plants are forming right next to the break point.


In addition, each leaf that breaks off has the potential to become a new plant. The two in the next photo had landed to the side of the pot and I didn’t notice them until this morning. Not only are there baby ghost plants forming, there are also adventitious roots ready to go to work.


This morning I collected a handful of leaves showing signs of new growth as well as two larger pieces that had recently been knocked off by our dog.


I filled small containers ranging from 2” to 3” inches in size with my succulent mix and simply placed the leaves on top. The broken off pieces I stuck vertically into the soil. With winter approaching, it will take a few months before significant new growth will occur but there should be some root growth even now.


This is the second time I’m propagating Graptopetalum paraguyense this way. In this post from March I expressed uncertainty as to what would happen with the leaf cutting. Take a look at the next photo to see the result: a bunch of new ghost plants!


As you can see, these offsets have a slight different color. They were kept in darker conditions than the specimen by the front door so the predominant hue is a very pal sea green. It’s actually quite attractive in its own right. This goes to show that some—actually quite a few—succulents do very well with much less light than many people think.

These plants were perfect until just a few days ago when some critter took small chunks out of some leaves. The taste must not have been that great, otherwise there would have been more damage.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blitz cleanup for Halloween

This summer, as if by magic, a lot of potted plants have accumulated on the flagstone walkway that goes from the driveway to the front door. I love the look of pots massed together, but with Halloween just a day away, I thought it prudent to do a quick cleanup in this area. While none of these plants would seriously injure any trick-or-treaters, I’m more concerned about the health and safety of the plants. You never know what kind of mischief human ghouls and goblins might be up to! The potted cacti a couple of photos down are especially tempting. Knocking them over would be sooooo easy!

This is what the bend of the walkway looked like this morning...


…and now. Granted, I could have removed a few more pots, but this should be fine.


Here are five potted cacti perched on top of the fence. Normally not a problem, but a little nudge is all it takes to knock them off their perch.


So I put them away for the time being.


Where did all the plants go, you might wonder?

They’re in the backyard in what will be new main potting area.


I love these deep nursery trays. I got them used from Yucca Do Nursery in Texas. Unfortunately, they’re out of stock at the moment.


After Halloween, I’ll have to get serious about building a rain shelter for my cacti. While the weather has been preternaturally beautiful, the winter rains will come sooner than we would like.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thinning out giant clumping timber bamboo

The giant clumping timber bamboo (Bambusa oldhamii) in front of the house has been going great guns this year. It’s hard to believe it hasn’t even been in the ground for two full years! Click here to read more about this particular specimen and to see photos of its progress.

Bambusa oldhamii on 9/11/11

While the jungle look has its charms, I decided this morning to do some trimming to let some light and air into the center of the clump. My initial goal was to remove some lateral branches from the bottom to make the culms more visible. Somehow I ended up letting out my inner Edward Scissorhands and in addition to removing branches I also cut down the oldest—and thinnest—culms as well as a couple of thick but short culms (late shoots from last fall that didn’t mature before the winter and lost their tops to frost).

The difference from before is dramatic. You can now see the culms and the clump looks more balanced.

Bambusa oldhamii on 10/29/11…
…after thinning

Here are two of those thick but congested culms. I’m keeping them for use as stakes.

Two of the largest culms I cut down

Fortunately, the city of Davis has yard waste pickup, so all I had to do was form a neat pile by the curb.

Yard waste pile
Amazing how long some of the branches can get—each node has one main lateral branch and several other minor branches

Bambusa oldhamii is notorious as a late shooter. In fact, I discovered two new shoots this morning. They’re about 2 inches in diameter. I’m afraid they’re not going to fully extend before winter and will end up as thick, but congested, culms—just like the ones I removed this morning.

Two new shoots, about 2 inches in diameter at the bottom