Most know of Oregon’s history with the great westward migration, but another migration also took place in the state – east from Asia. As a result, Portland, Oregon, has two inspiring gardens that reflect the cultures of China and Japan.
It’s hard to imagine you are standing in the heart of downtown Portland when you step into the entry courtyard of the Lan Su Chinese Garden, considered the most authentic Suzhou-style garden outside of China.
This one-square block garden is a window into Chinese culture, history and way of thinking. Designed to look like the 16th century home and garden of a wealthy Chinese family, the garden’s paths take you into authentic buildings, through doorways into secluded courtyards, and past windows framed to offer views within views.
Lan Su’s plant collection includes more than 90 specimen trees, rare and unusual shrubs and perennials, and signature magnolia, orchid and camellia collections.
In spring, Lan Su in Bloom, spans eight weeks in April through May and includes talks, tours and displays. In winter, the garden celebrates the Chinese New Year with lion and dragon dances, music, and an exhibition of more than 300 hanging and floating lanterns.
Overlooking downtown in Washington Park, the Portland Japanese Garden is considered the most authentic Japanese garden outside Japan. Tranquil beauty surrounds you from the moment you enter the garden. Winding pathways past ponds and waterfalls and over bridges (including an authentic Moon Bridge) lead to five gardens – Strolling Pond Garden, Natural Garden, Tea Garden, Sand and Stone Garden, and Flat Garden. Along the way traditional Japanese plantings, including an impressive array of old growth Japanese maples, great you at every turn.
In the spring of 2017, the garden opened a $33.5 million, 3.4-acre Cultural Village expansion designed by Kengo Kuma – the man behind the Tokyo Olympics’ National Stadium. The key features include three new garden spaces, a 3,000-square foot Castle Wall and a mozenmachi-inspired courtyard, this new Cultural Village provides additional space to the garden, but also – and most importantly – enhance its ability to immerse visitors in traditional Japanese arts and culture.
Portland has an incredible collection of other gardens worth a visit. The International Rose Test Garden hugs the hillside of Washington Park with a spectacular view of Mt. Hood and downtown. More than 10,000 plantings of some 590 rose varieties are displayed in the terraced landscape. The Hoyt Arboretum is home to plants from all seven continents. The Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden features 2,500 specimens. Elk Rock Garden of the Bishop’s Close is worth the drive to southwest of the city. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Willamette River, this surprising garden was created in the early 1890s. Plantings across the 13-acre estate include lovely rock gardens and a magnolia walk.
WHEN YOU GO:
You can’t visit Portland without a stop at downtown’s Voodoo Doughnuts, a legendary 24-hour doughnut shop with crazy toppings like fruit loops, bacon and Oreo’s, plus a voodoo doll shaped doughnut filled with raspberry jelly and topped with chocolate frosting. Prepare to wait in line at any hour of the day.
For more information about Portand and its gardens, visit travelportland.com.
Beverly Hurley is the editor of Triangle Gardener magazine in North Carolina. When she is not gardening, she loves to travel.