Sunday, June 13, 2010

Summer Travels 2010 - Part 2: The Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon

The Lan Su Chinese Garden is significantly younger than Portland's famous Japanese Garden but it is at least as beautiful. Located in historic Chinatown in the center of the city, the garden was completed in 2000 and celebrates Portland's relationship with its Chinese sister city Suzhou, which is famous for its historic gardens. The garden's name, "Lan Su", apparently translates to something along the lines of "Awakening Orchids" but it also plays on the names of the two sister cities, with "lan" representing Portland and "su" standing in for Suzhou. Stylistically, the garden imitates the urban gardens of wealthy scholars in that city, and perhaps one of its most amazing aspects is the sheer variety, detail, and sense of seclusion found within it despite its small size.

 The entrance gate to the garden

A second gate which leads from the first courtyard into the garden proper

A variegated cultivar of Bletilla striata flowering in the entrance courtyard

The garden is arranged in a serious of "rooms" and passageways around a large central pond, interspersed with pavilions, bridges, a fully operational teahouse, and a number of rock features including a rocky hill with a small waterfall. As a result one always feels both inside and outside at the same time, and the scale of any view in the garden is quite intimate. Apart from the strategically placed decorative Lake Tai rocks with their twisting shapes, there are also many other playful decorative details, such as small windows in walls separating different garden parts which frame a specific plant or arrangement of plants and rocks like a painting, inscriptions of Chinese calligraphy on wood and stone, and intricate wood carvings in the various pavilions.

Knowing the Fish Pavilion

 A covered passage culminating in a window framing an elegant scene of Musa basjoo, a decorative rock, and a potted specimen of Trachelospermum jasminoides

 A view across the first garden "room" one encounters after entering the garden

An intimate walk

One of the Lake Tai rocks

An unusual opening in a wall framing a specimen of Fatsia japonica

 A view across the central part of the garden with the Moon-Locking Pavilion and the Tower of Cosmic Reflections Teahouse in the background

Another view across the central portion of the garden, towards the Flowers Bathing in Spring Rain Pavilion

A gate of yet another shape connecting two smaller sections of the garden

Beyond the intriguing design, the garden also offers plenty of interest to plant lovers, with a vast assortment of plants species and cultivars traditionally grown in Chinese gardens. These include camellias, rhododendrons, tree peonies, magnolias, orchids, creeping saxifrage (Saxifraga stolonifera), Chusan palms (Trachycarpus fortunei), bamboos, and many other plants both well known and unusual. There are even several clumps of the Japanese fiber banana (Musa basjoo), one of my favorite garden plants.

A tree peony cultivar (Paeonia suffruticosa) with pale yellow flowers with dark red centers

 A variety of hydrangea vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides 'Moonlight')

 A white azalea (Rhododendron sp.)

 A pink flowers I was unable to identify - Does anyone know what this is?
Update:  According to John at John Grimshaw's Garden Diary this is Chinese Foxglove (Rehmannia elata)

 The Japanese fiber banana (Musa basjoo

In addition  to the beautiful plants in the garden itself, there was also an exhibit of herbaceous peony varieties in the pavilions of the garden at the time of our visit, and many of the blossoms on display were truly stunning.

 One of the herbaceous peony displays in the Hall of Brocade Clouds

 An unusual single white variety with greenish stamens

A salmon variety which I thought was particularly pretty

A stunning pink semi-double bloom

A single two-tone flower

After wandering through the gardens for a while, my mom and I stopped at the beautiful teahouse and had tea and coconut custard tarts. Portland being the City of Roses I thought it appropriate to opt for a Chinese black tea flavored with rose petals, which was incredibly fragrant and utterly delicious. Better yet, the staff kept refilling our teapots unobtrusively and free of charge and so we happily relaxed at the teahouse for quite a while. On the whole, the garden and the teahouse were  probably our favorite spots in the entire city, and in their serenity and oasis-like atmosphere they reminded me a bit of the gardens of the Grand Mosque of Paris which I was lucky enough to visit last summer.

 Nature and architecture gracefully blend together throughout the garden

 Each passage offers new views and invites the visitor to explore

 The design is very intricate and quite noticeably artificial yet it is nevertheless calm and elegant

If you want to find out more about the Lan Su Chinese Garden - including opening times and admission prices - you can also visit its beautiful website, which also contains an interactive map of the garden, detailed information about its history, design, and plants, links to other Chinese gardens in North America as well as Chinese garden projects still in the making, a bibliography or relevant literature - it includes one of my favorite plant books, Peter Valder's The Garden Plants of China - and various other interesting features.


  1. What a beautiful garden tour ! You were blessed to be able to share this with your Mom..cherish the time you have with her always, take care, Gina

  2. The pink flower is Rehmannia elata.



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