Lan Su Chinese Garden, a downtown Portland oasis

While vacationing in Portland last month, we visited Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland. It was my third visit, and I find I enjoy it more each time I see it. Chinese gardens have had to grow on me, so different do they seem from the Western or even Japanese garden traditions I’m used to, with a city-like emphasis on architecture — which is, at Lan Su, ornately beautiful.

Pavilions and a tea house with swoop-edged roofs offer sheltered garden-viewing spots throughout this walled urban oasis.

Rather than extensive garden beds or an open lawn, the heart of this garden is a large pond with waterlilies and lotus.

This small pavilion along a zigzagging bridge was a popular spot to enjoy the garden.

A mysterious grotto of rugged limestone rocks can be seen just beyond the bridge.

From this arched bridge…

…you see a waterfall fountain inside the grotto. Outside, etched and painted Chinese characters offer…a short poem? The name of this garden feature? No climbing on rocks, please?

Semi-hidden views are a theme of this garden, with cut-out windows in organic shapes offering glimpses of or entry into intimate courtyards.

A square lattice window

A quatrefoil doorway

This moon doorway with a view of a craggy standing stone is my favorite. Called Tai Hu rocks, according to the garden’s website, the limestone is mined from Lake Tai in China. “They are prized for their four virtues which are: the holes that allow life force to flow freely, the rough texture, their slenderness, and being top-heavy. More than 500 tons of rock was shipped from China for the Garden.”

The pebble mosaic paving is a work of art.

Beautiful pebble mosaic paths lead through the garden rooms.

This pavilion is positioned to enjoy a view of the koi pond.

Covered walkways with lattice detailing lead a winding path along the garden’s outer perimeter.

Vertical layers of lattice

And lattice windows

A wooden boat floats at one end of the pond, as if awaiting a boating party.

Foo dog finial

A Chinese poem is carved into the wooden wall of one pavilion.

Downtown buildings rise over the garden, but inside the walls is this serene oasis.

Lotus was in bloom during our August visit.

Inside one of the pavilions were demonstrations of Chinese arts. A musician plucked the strings of a zheng, or Chinese zither.

And a calligrapher wrote out a humorous poem, something about drinking too much wine…

…and offered it to our language-learning daughter.

We enjoyed our visit to Lan Su, a lovely glimpse into classical Chinese culture.

Up next: Thicket, an urban boutique nursery in Portland. For a look back at Loree Bohl’s exquisite Danger Garden, click here.

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6 Responses

  1. What a lovely garden. To me the Chinese garden is a lot like a Japanese garden. I like the way the Chinese venerate rocks. I fully agree with them. I really like the moon gate and those swooping roof lines.

  2. Phillip says:

    One of my favorite places in Portland!

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