Portland Japanese Garden in the fall: part 3

Part 1 of my post about the Portland Japanese Garden in the fall covered the entry area, the Strolling Pond Garden, and the Tea Garden.

Part 2 took you to the Natural Garden and the Sand and Stone Garden.

In Part 3, I will show you the Flat Garden as well as some areas along the outer perimeter and outside the Japanese Garden proper. As before, this map from the Garden’s web site is a helpful navigation tool.

Located up the hill from the Sand and Stone Garden to which it is thematically related, the Flat Garden is also a dry garden but it is less minimalistic, its edges softened by carefully pruned shrubs and trees that add visual relief to the expanse of sand. The Flat Garden is meant to be viewed from the verandah of the Pavilion, a low-slung structure used for exhibitions and special events.

According to the official map of the Portland Japanese Garden:

The Flat Garden (hira niwa) is designed using a sea of raked sand. The two islands of plantings depict a sake cup and gourd-shaped bottle, signifying pleasure and a wish for the visitor’s happiness.

Lace-leaf Japanese maple at the head of the trail from the Sand and Stone Garden
The color of the leaves was so vibrant, it almost hurt my eyes

Poetry Stone in the Flat Garden.
The inscription is a haiku that translates as:
Here, miles from Japan,
I stand as if warmed by the
spring sunshine of home.

Another lace-leaf Japanese maple with impossibly contorted branches
Granite water bowl in a contemporary style.
This is the kind of bowl I would love to have in my garden.
Delicate branch growing out of a weathered trunk
Yet another lace-leaf Japanese maple.
There were so many, and even though it may seem like it, I did not photograph all of them :-).
Kanjuji lantern next to the Pavilion, named after the Kaju-ji Temple in Kyoto. This is a less ornate lantern style that is particularly popular in more contemporary Japanese gardens. It also happens to my favorite lantern style. I’m still looking for a good buy on one of these—they’re usually very expensive because they’re large and heavy.
Pavilion with a border planting of groundcover bamboo
Another view toward the main entrance of the Pavilion
Main entrance of the Pavilion
Upright Japanese maple next to the Pavilion
Lace-leaf Japanese maple exploding in a symphony of oranges
The branches were as twisted as a corkscrew hazel
View of Flat Garden from the Pavilion verandah.
The round island in the lower-left corner of the photo is the sake cup…
…and this one the gourd
Iyo Stone from the Japanese island of Shikoku, honoring the first president of the Japanese Garden Society of Oregon
This bluish rounded river rock is found in many places throughout the Garden. I love how its cool color contrasts with the rich, almost electric, green of the moss
Cloud-pruned evergreen (not sure what it is). Cloud pruning (nawaki) is a Japanese topiary technique of shaping branches into mounds that resemble clouds. To me, there’s no look that distills the essence of Japanese gardening quite like this one.
While resembling a lantern, this beautiful wooden structure actually covers a fire hydrant
Fallen maple leaves on a bed of moss
Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) in its fall glory. The leaf color was a true magenta as opposed to the typical red or orange of Japanese maples.
Hollowed-out rock serving as a water basin. This is the most naturalistic of all the basins I saw. I could do a post just on the different styles of water basins there!
Standing stone and tree
Nanako-gaki fence effectively separating the pathway from the planted area. This fence is so simple that it could easily be incorporated into a home garden.
Bamboo enclosure for garbage and recycling cans outside the entry gate—
attention to the last detail, including traditional black hemp for tying!
Bamboo at the office building outside the entry gate. I’d love to work here!
Pagoda-style stone lantern and maple outside office building

While it’s impossible to recreate a garden like this at home, there are many elements that can be incorporated even if your garden isn’t Japanese or Asian. Rocks are the easiest and typically cheapest way to add visual interest to a planting bed; ornaments like statues or even just interesting pots provide additional eye candy. And even if you think that the level of attention Japanese gardens lavish on their plants is excessive, you can still prune or trim plants that would otherwise go wild.

But the thing I appreciate most about Japanese gardens is the element of surprise that is implemented so effortlessly (well, it looks effortless but it does require quite a bit of savvy and planning): Gardens are laid out in such a way that their “secrets” are doled out one by one instead of being given away all at once. Paths meander through spaces that alternate between open and enclosed, affording a different view around each bend. In Japanese gardening, this is called “hide and reveal” (miegakure). The contemporary concept of “garden rooms” follows a similar philosophy.

I have now visited the Portland Japanese Garden in the summer and the fall. I will make every effort to visit next spring when the azaleas are in bloom!

Related posts:

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


  1. I love the photos of the tree you compared to a corkscrew hazel!

    Did you investigate how they contained their running bamboos? Any evidence of barriers?

  2. Alan, no evidence of any barrier. Since bamboo is used very sparsely, I believe they just remove the culms they don't want.


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