One of the gardens we visited during the recent Garden Bloggers Fling was the Portland Japanese Garden, surely one of the most spectacular public gardens in the country. I’d visited it twice before (see “Related Posts” at the bottom of the page) and knew what to expect. However, this is such a special place that it takes my breath away each time.
I’ve covered the history of the Portland Japanese Garden in a previous post, but here is a quick recap: Opened in 1967, the Portland Japanese Garden has been called “one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan” and “the most beautiful Japanese garden, not only in the United States, but in the world outside of Japan”. It encompasses five distinct areas, each of which corresponds to a specific garden style: Strolling Pond Garden, Natural Garden, Sand and Stone Garden, Flat Garden, and Tea Garden. Each style has a unique purpose, but they all are living reflections of Japanese history and culture.
The Portland Japanese Garden is located in Washington Park on a 5.5 acre site, just above the International Rose Test Garden. The hilly location is perfect, allowing the Garden to merge seamlessly with the forest beyond.
As I said in my earlier post:
I was struck by the serenity and tranquility that existed even on a busy day. The use of traditional Japanese landscaping principles such as “hide and reveal” ensures that garden features show themselves to us gradually and almost reticently, instead of all at once the way they would in a western garden. A welcome side effect of this technique is that other garden visitors often disappear around a bend in the path or behind a hill, increasing the sense of peacefulness and quiet.
The same held true this time, as you can see from the photos below.
Aside from a brief burst of flowers in the spring (especially from the many azaleas) and the magnificent oranges and reds from the Japanese maples in the fall, hues of green, gray and brown dominate the color spectrum.
This results in an environment that is contemplative, almost meditative. Your mind could get lost looking at the trees, moss, or rocks.
The made-made objects—wooden structures, paving stones, bamboo fences, stone lanterns—are in perfect harmony with the natural elements.
Many of the stepping stones came to the Garden from other public places in the area. The granite slabs you see in the next photo, for example, used to be the entry steps to the Portland Civic Auditorium. They were removed as part of a renovation project.
As you can see from the number of photos I took, I was quite enthralled with the way these materials have been recombined to form walkways and paths. They are visible signs of the human hand that is always in control in a Japanese garden. In fact, no matter how “natural” a Japanese garden looks, nothing is left to chance. Everything is how it is because the gardener designer made a conscious decision that it should be like that—and not any other way.
Since this was my third visit to the Portland Japanese Garden, I was able to focus on more subtle things that may not jump out right away: the knots in a bamboo fence; the way a tree is pruned to guide the visitor’s eyes to a certain point in the distance; how stepping stones of different shapes and sizes are laid to force visitors to slow down as they walk through the Garden. Taken individually, each one is a small thing, but together they shape the visitor experience in a subtle yet powerful way.
- January 2011: Portland Japanese Garden: Design
- January 2011: Portland Japanese Garden: Plants
- January 2011: Portland Japanese Garden: Ornaments
- November 2011: Portland Japanese Garden in the fall: part 1
- November 2011: Portland Japanese Garden in the fall: part 2
- November 2011: Portland Japanese Garden in the fall: part 3
- 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling index