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.

Coneflower and tower power at the Wildflower Center


Evening hours last Thursday at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center drew me to the gardens like a moth to flame. And flaming hot it was too — about 97 F (36.1 C) when I arrived at 5 pm. You may already know this about me: despite my love of Austin and central Texas, I’m as much of a heat wimp as someone from Vermont. Most of my Texas garden and state park visits (and posts), therefore, occur during fall, winter, and spring, when the weather is pleasantly cool or at least not broiling.


But the fact is, many of our native plants love the heat. They’re born to it, you might say, and not only survive but thrive in it. While many Austin gardeners view summer as a season of planning rather than active gardening (certainly not planting), our gardens are anything but dormant. At the Wildflower Center last week, their gardens were positively bursting with color and lush growth.


The garden was open late for Nature Nights, which is geared to kids and families. These boys were investigating the pond in the main courtyard, framed by curtains of tall grasses.


A blaze of color attracted my eye to a trumpet creeper vine (Campsis radicans) climbing an arbor. The Wildflower Center describes this vine as an aggressive colonizer, so I’ll be admiring this one from afar.


Strolling to the new Family Garden along with most of the other visitors, I stopped to admire a new garden awash in brilliant coneflowers and soft-blue salvia.


Black-eyed Susans and mealy blue sage


A swath of tall black-eyed Susans stood out against shorter perennials.


Their golden-yellow petals caught the late-afternoon light, as wands of red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) gently bobbed in the background.


Looking back I enjoyed this view of the Wildflower Center’s iconic, spiraling cistern-tower, with wildflowers carpeting the foreground.


At the back of the administrative building, I spotted this handsome combination of Texas nolina (Nolina texana) spilling over a rock wall, with the Mickey Mouse ears of a spineless prickly pear above it.


The prickly pear flowers are burnt-gold and surprisingly ruffly.


From another angle it gets even better, with a zexmenia (Wedelia texana) adding to the gold color scheme, its narrow leaves contrasting with the spaghetti-like nolina and muscular pad structure of the prickly pear.


Farther along the path, a billowing cloud of Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima) seems to float in front of more mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea).


After exploring the Family Garden (click for my post), I entered the central gardens again, passing this peaceful bench and vine-draped arbor.


In the butterfly garden I admired the Koosh ball-like flowers of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).


Or maybe it looks like a pincushion?


The Demonstration Garden was nearly deserted, despite the glowing beauty of the late afternoon light.


Of course I had to stop for the stock-tank pond and planters.


I think this is a Habiturf lawn in the Traditional Homeowner Inspiration Garden. It looks quite nice for a lawn that needs little, if any, supplemental water and seldom needs mowing.


Another view of the cistern-tower, this time from the cafe gardens. Visitors can climb right up a spiraling stair to take in the view from the top.


A nodding sunflower bids farewell until next time.

To read my post about Nature Nights at the Luci & Ian Family Garden at the Wildflower Center, click here.

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