Portland Japanese Garden: Portland Garden Bloggers Fling


The second day of the 7th annual Garden Bloggers Fling, held in Portland in mid-July, began in the renowned Portland Japanese Garden, often described as the most authentic of its kind outside of Japan.


I had visited a few days earlier with my husband on a hot, sunny morning. It was a pleasure to see it again, and I already knew where the cool, shady places were — like under the skirt of this Japanese maple.


It’s a good garden for hot weather. Water trickles from bamboo fountains throughout the garden, offering its cooling music.


Ponds, streams, and waterfalls abound as well, surrounded by a tapestry of greenery.


While water is absent from the dry garden, raked white gravel represents the sea surrounding mossy islands. The scene, I learned, is meant to be appreciated as you would a painting, from a single perspective. You do not enter the garden but view it from a veranda.


The overhanging roof of the veranda frames the view, blocking out the tall native firs in the background and bringing the scene down to human scale.


Just as the teahouse roof does for this mossy garden


A peaceful scene


In other parts of the garden, bright sunlight beautifully illuminated the leaves of hundreds of maples like stained glass.


This glowing Japanese maple shelters a stone lantern.


Nearby a dramatic waterfall cascades into a koi-filled pond.


Wending its way across one end of the pond is a traditional wooden zig-zag bridge. Koi trail along beside you, like pets expecting a treat.


The last of the irises were drooping on their stems under the hot sun.


A garden worker was clipping the spent flowers and placing them in a basket. I asked what she was planning to do with the flowers, thinking a few might be floated in a fountain or something, but she told me no, they would be discarded. A pity — they were still quite pretty in the basket.


A covered gate marks the passage between the pond and the teahouse garden.


Sunlight was gilding the garden.


Here’s Helen Battersby, host of next year’s Garden Bloggers Fling in Toronto, on the moon bridge, taking in the view.


Pagoda sculpture


A carved image half-buried on a mossy hillside looks like an ancient relic.


The stone paths and bridges throughout the garden entice you to explore, but slowly, stepping carefully so as not to rush through the garden.


Here a casual stair of flat boulders meets a more formal, cut-stone stair…


…which serpentines down a gloamy slope between moss-draped boulders.


The stair is itself a work of art.


Moss, shrub, and tree wrap you in a green glow here.


Mossy boulders give a sense of timelessness to the scene, even as a stream trickles by and flowers bloom and fade, illustrating the passage of time.


I caught the end of a guided tour by Sadafumi Uchiyama, the Garden Curator, and immediately regretted not hearing his entire tour.


Mr. Uchiyama spoke eloquently about the purpose, symbolism, and techniques involved in Japanese gardens, giving me a much greater understanding and appreciation of the style than I’d ever have gotten on my own.


Here’s the zen garden, a garden composed entirely of stone, meant to be viewed, as with the other dry garden, from a single perspective. A wall encloses the scene, focusing your gaze on the gravel “water,” with raked ripples around seven floating stones, all seeming to point toward a tall, figure-like stone at the rear.


The scene is meant to be harmonious and pleasing to the eye, Mr. Uchiyama explained, but it also represents a Japanese legend about the Buddha sacrificing himself to save a starving tiger and her cubs, illustrating the virtue of compassion.


I’ll conclude with another glowing bouquet of sunlit leaves.


After leaving the Japanese Garden we walked over to the Rose Garden amphitheater, where we had a group picture made. Here we are, the Portland Flingers — what a fun group!

Up next: Fling co-host Loree Bohl’s spikylicious Danger Garden. For a look back at the John Greenlee-designed Westwind Farm Studio gardens, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Lan Su Chinese Garden: Portland Garden Bloggers Fling


Austin and Portland, Oregon, are soul-sister cities, sharing a love of “weirdness,” food carts/trucks, huge independent bookstores, and tattoos, as I can attest from my recent visit. Austin and Portland also share a vibrant gardening culture and even the same hardiness zone (8b), although our climates couldn’t be more different in terms of rainfall patterns and summer heat and humidity.


Last weekend I spent 4 days touring gardens and jabbering with fellow bloggers during the 7th annual Garden Bloggers Fling. Around eighty bloggers from all over the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and even Spain attended to see Portland’s best gardens. Here’s my friend Dee enjoying a cup of tea at one of our first stops, Lan Su Chinese Garden.


Lan Su is a walled oasis shoehorned into downtown Portland, overlooked by tall office buildings but sheltered and inward-looking.


Built by craftsmen from Portland’s sister city in China, Suzhou, it’s constructed in the style of a wealthy Chinese family’s private home and garden in the 16th century, and encompasses a walled compound of buildings, planted courtyards, and a central pond filled with lotus and water lilies.


Piered bridges crisscross the pond, offering picturesque views throughout the garden.


There are long views across the pond.


But overall the garden has a feeling of intimacy, with intricate details that speak to the craftsmanship that went into this garden. Carved wooden windows overlook the pond, framing willow branches.


Pebble-mosaic paths wander through the courtyards.


And cut-out windows, resembling stylized flowers, provide glimpses of the outside world.


This garden is as much about the hardscape (buildings, bridges, paths, doorways, etc.) as the plants. Still, the plant collection includes hundreds of species native to China, including, according to the website, “more than fifty specimen trees, many rare and unusual shrubs and perennials, and curated collections of Magnolia, Peony, Camellia, Rhododendron, Osmanthus and bamboo.” A quote by E.H. Wilson describes China as the “Mother of All Gardens,” home to tens of thousands of species, including many commonly planted in our home gardens today.


I’d visited Lan Su with Loree of Danger Garden three years ago, before the Seattle Garden Bloggers Fling, and I am glad to have had a second visit.

Up next: My visit to a playfully hip, semi-goth garden shop on Portland’s Alberta Street, Digs Inside & Out, which I visited on my own before the Fling.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Houston Open Days Tour 2014: Jungle safari at Del Monte Drive Garden


Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! On March 29, my friend Diana and I traveled to Houston for the Garden Conservancy-sponsored Open Days tour. Del Monte Drive in the posh River Oaks neighborhood was home to two of the gardens, starting with a surprising “safari garden” behind one of the most enormous homes I’ve ever seen.


Voila! The neo-French mansion in all its pale-pink glory. Actually, this picture doesn’t do it justice because it obscures an entire wing of the house to the left, plus a freestanding ballroom with its own entry court on the right (pics at the end of this post). Grande, non?


We expected little more than an elegant parking court, graceful old trees, and obligatory acres of lawn and azaleas. Imagine our surprise, therefore, when our perfunctory stroll through the rear garden turned into a fun, exploratory walkabout through azalea trails leading past a menagerie of life-size animal sculptures. Look out! Here comes a leopard.


Elephants are my favorite animal and seemed to be the owner’s too. This baby elephant, perched over a small pond, its trunk stretched out for a drink, is one of three elephant sculptures in the garden.

Yes. Three life-size elephant sculptures.

Two of them are only calves, however, and don’t take up much room.

This picture shows how the stepping-stone path winds through a groundcover of mondo grass and past borders of azalea, foxtail fern, and philodendron. Overarching the scene is an upper layer of small trees like Mexican plum and sinuous, dark-limbed live oaks.


It was quite a magical space, believe it or not. We imagined how much fun the owner’s children or grandchildren must have, running these trails and climbing on the animal sculptures.


Here a foal grazes amid cut-back liriope while a turtle raises its head for a look.


A bronze bear sniffs the air for the presence of tasty little boys or girls.


Watch out! A hippopotamus gapes wide amid azalea, loropetalum, and iris.


A fancy playhouse on stilts, looking very much like a safari tent, is tucked into one end of the garden, surrounded by rustling bamboo.


Beneath it, a flagstone patio furnished with camp chairs invites lounging or play. A gorilla relaxes nearby.


From another angle you see the playhouse, inviting paths, and — whoa! — an alligator snapping at passersby from a clump of variegated flax lily. Over-the-top it may be, but come on! What kid wouldn’t love this?


Backing up for a wider view, you see elegant steps leading to a vine-cloaked pool house or storage building. Two of these green-doored structures flank each side of a swoop-roofed pool cabana…


…with a striped, tent-like ceiling, buffet, mirror, dining table, and incredible beaded chandelier. Lounge chairs, not pictured, are aligned on the lawn on each side of the pavilion, all overlooking the pièce de résistance


…a prancing, life-size elephant spouting water from its trunk into a circular swimming pool surrounded by palms.


We met the landscape architect who designed this garden, Frank Brown III, who also happens to be the Houston Open Days organizer, and he told us that the owner already owned the animal sculptures, and he was charged with figuring out how to display them. I think he did a marvelous job.


I stood in the pavilion for a bit, looking out on the scene and wondering about the kind of person who purchases a menagerie of life-size, bronze sculpture for her garden. I imagined someone a bit like my husband’s grandmother, who has always had a flamboyant style, an appreciation for whimsy, and a willingness to spend to create an experience for her family and friends.

By the way, that’s the free-standing ballroom up ahead.


Here’s a look at it from the front. This is the first area of the garden we saw. Very nice, of course, but not particularly inspiring for the average homeowner.


A parking court with an island of boxwood and roses. But wait — what’s that against the house?


Espaliered magnolias! Perhaps Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’? Now that’s interesting, and do-able for any skilled gardener on a smaller budget. See? There’s always a takeaway.

Up next: The casually elegant 3640 Del Monte Drive Garden. For a look back at the contemporary West Lane Garden, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.