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.

34 Responses

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    One never tires of seeing this garden. Everyone has a different perspective. Beautiful and calm.

  2. David says:

    I love Japanese gardens. This one looks like the finest in the country. Thanks for the fabulous and detailed tour. I especially love how you shot the garden paths and the zen gardens. We probably have a number of zen gardens here in Houston, but they are in private gardens away from the public. I agree with you; that curator tour would be fantastic!
    It’s nice that Portland has such a beautiful place for its people. Our public Japanese garden in Hermann Park is very nice (and a gift from the Japanese people), but oftentimes the waterfalls are not in operation (we have to have pumps since we are a flat terrain)and this makes me sad, especially when I take visitors from out of town. Perhaps someday we’ll have the funding to upgrade our own Japanese garden to showcase this special type of garden style filled with serenity and peace. Lord knows 2.2 million stressed-out Houstonians could use a couple of more Japanese gardens sprinkled around town!
    I always like to end on a positive note, so I’ll just throw in that the Japanese Garden in Fredericksburg,TX (though small) is perfectly maintained by the Nimitz Center and always a showcase of beauty and peace. Have you seen it, Pam?

    • Pam/Digging says:

      David, our Japanese garden in Austin is quite nice too but also suffers from a shortage of funding. The city toys with the idea of subbing maintenance (and admission fees) out to a private entity, which I think would help, but so far has taken no action.

      I have indeed visited the Japanese garden in Fredericksburg. The day I visited was very hot, and my family was in a hurry. I need to go back and see it another time. —Pam

  3. Laura says:

    Beautiful photos of a beautiful garden

  4. Peter/Outlaw says:

    This garden was indeed a wonderfully shady and tranquil place to be on a hot morning! Thanks for explaining more about the gravel gardens which I so wanted to mess up a little as they were so perfect. How do they manage to do that without leaving footprints?

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Peter, thank you for admitting to a tiny destructive impulse. David and I are so not worthy of this garden because we giggled over the idea of making gravel angels in the zen garden. —Pam

  5. Kris P says:

    The entire garden is a work of heart. Much as I love lots of flowers and color in my own garden, I also appreciate the peace and tranquility of the traditional Japanese garden.

  6. Jenn says:

    So much green.

    We have a Japanese garden in Phoenix that struggles to convey this greenness in this climate.

    So green.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Well, the dry gardens would be a natural. :-) Seriously, though, it does make one wonder whether certain garden styles can transcend any climate. I think they can, but it would be interesting to read more about this. —Pam

  7. Heather says:

    You got so many wonderful shots! I’m so glad your husband got to see it too.

  8. Lisa James says:

    Very lovely review and photos. Portland is indeed proud of our garden, proclaimed one of the most beautiful in the world. Note – it does not receive ANY government support, and manages its 5.5 acres and programming entirely on admissions, memberships and donations. It is an independent nonprofit. If you want more color, come in spring for azaleas, rhododendrons and more. Come in autumn for fire-like reds and yellows – that’s the best!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      That lack of dependence on city support is probably why it looks so great, Lisa. (Reliance on city funds so often seems to result in poorly maintained gardens.) You are justly proud of this garden; it’s stunning. I hope to return one day in the fall, my favorite season. —Pam

  9. Mark and Gaz says:

    Great photos Pam, and so lucky to have seen it beforehand. This garden is up there as one of Portland’s major tourist attractions.

  10. SuePip says:

    Wonderful photos, Pam! I’m wondering how you managed to capture the woman from the fifties or sixties in the photo of the serpentine cut stone stairs. Her face is right near the top of the stairs and she looks like she’s wearing a headband. She has her hand up near her mouth and is wearing a lot of eye makeup typical of the times. Does anywone else see her? She’s the first thing I saw when I scrolled to that photo. Maybe she’s meditating.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I had to study that picture to see what you described, SuePip, and I finally did. Too funny! At the time I thought the pools of light on the steps looked like moving water. —Pam

    • katina says:

      Yes! I saw the face too and was like “wow, I wonder if anyone else sees a face in the shadows”

  11. peter schaar says:

    Beautiful pictures of a beautiful garden. Thanks, Pam. The Fort Worth Botanical Garden has a fine Japanese garden as well. Have you seen it? I would love to see your photos if you visit it and hear your impressions.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I have not been to Fort Worth Botanical Garden yet, Peter. It’s on my list. Now that my son is heading to college in Richardson, I hope to have more opportunities to see gardens in the area over the next four years. —Pam

  12. Rose says:

    Probably my favorite place in all of Portland! Every time I’ve visited this garden, the moment I walk in, it’s as if the world is far away and a sense of peace comes over me. You’ve captured it beautifully, Pam; love the photos of the stairway. I would love to visit here in the fall!

  13. Ally says:

    This garden way exceeded my expectations. I’ve been to other Japanese gardens, but wow, this place was gorgeous. The moss and Japanese maples were particularly amazing.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Ally, if you ever have the chance to visit the Bloedel Reserve near Seattle, jump at it. It’s not a Japanese garrden, although it contains one, but it’s a masterpiece of green, mossy beauty. —Pam

  14. Greggo says:

    Excellence is in the details.

  15. Yikes! What a huge group. Nitobe in Vancouver, BC is still my favorite though Portland is gorgeous. What is striking about the Portland garden is the topography; so many ups and downs and different levels to traverse and to view.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      The Fling has been capped at around 80 people for the past several years because that’s how many can fit on 2 tour buses. It’s a good size that never felt overwhelming in a garden of this size. :-) Of course, there were other people touring the Japanese Garden that day aside from us, so it was pretty full. I hope to see Nitobe one day. I was in Vancouver after the Seattle Fling but didn’t know about that garden then. —Pam

  16. Kit Aerie-el says:

    Wow, your images of the Garden are gorgeous! I feel like I’ve once again toured that beautiful place. And how pretty to capture those spent flowers in the basket!