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


  1. Simply Stunning! What does the traditional pulley and bamboo cover represent?

  2. Becky, the pulley would have been used to haul water up the well, to be used for making tea for the tea ceremony. The tea ceremony was a practice designed to allow people to leave the everyday world behind and enter a higher realm of spirituality.

  3. Just what I was going to say - stunning - the garden and your photos. My favorite is the close-up of the lace leaf maple. So glad you went to see the fall colors - there is something special about them! anne

  4. I enjoyed your post then and I'm enjoying it even more now! The plants, details and structure in the garden are superb, and the composition in each photograph is lovely. Which is an indication how photogenic this garden is. I love it!

  5. Wow, even more beautiful than the last visit. The close-up of the lace-leaf maple is my favorite. Just amazing.

  6. Oh my goodness what a beautiful place. With your photos I felt like I was there. It seemed so peaceful and serene. And that huge maple.....oh my gosh, it is spectacular. I think that you paid this wonderful place a visit at the most perfect time of year. The colors are spectacular!


Post a Comment