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.

18 Responses

  1. Scott Weber says:

    So good to see Fling posts starting, Pam! It’s funny you mentioned the dominance of hardscape…it’s something I wondered as well…I find myself not even noticing the plants, the hardscape is what stuck in my mind.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I noticed that while in Beijing a few years ago, Scott. They love rocks more than plants, I remember thinking. Isn’t it interesting that in a region with so many species of plants available, the gardens seem more focused on hardscape details? I’d love to know more about the philosophy behind Chinese gardens. —Pam

  2. Heather says:

    I’m so impressed by how many wonderful shots you got without people in them. You’re some sort of photo ninja.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Haha! Alas, my ninja skills failed me on the last shot. I waited and waited for that courtyard and circular doorway to clear — or for a single, picturesque person to walk through it toward me — but never got the moment I was looking for. Ah well. —Pam

  3. Kris P says:

    Good lessons here about framing the view. Thanks, Pam!

  4. A little thing like full sun and harsh shadows (not to mention 78 other people) doesn’t stop you from taking an amazing bunch of photos!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Thanks, Loree. That blazing sun was tricky indeed. I’m pretty good about waiting out other people though, which is why Heather had to chase me back onto the bus at Floramagoria. —Pam

  5. Ragna says:

    Totally gorgeous and wonderfully serene! I appreciate your wider angle photos which offer a good feel of the garden’s design and how one part relates to the other. That’s something we can gain from when thinking of our own garden designs.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Thanks, Ragna. I do always try to get long shots of gardens when I’m on tour, which can be challenging with lots of other people around. I don’t mind people in my shots, but I prefer that they not be bending over taking their own pictures — ha! —Pam

  6. ks says:

    So who let you in before the rest of us got there ? :-)

  7. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Love those moon gates. This would be such a serene place to have as one’s own.

  8. TexasDeb says:

    I arrived late to this post and everybody has pretty much said it all already. Great shots, amazing framing, insightful comments. This is why we all look forward to your posts about the Fling and other tours. Some days I think I learn more from your posts than I would touring on my own. You are able to distill out what otherwise might be a lot of distractions and give us the essence of a place.

  9. I loved that garden, and that was the best tea I’ve ever had. And, I drink tea everyday. Thank you for the cute photo. You’re a great photographer Pam.~~Dee

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