Three of the finest gardens in the Pacific Northwest grow within a 15-minute drive of the skyscrapers of downtown Portland. In fact, I had hoped to visit others, such as the Hoyt Arboretum and vast Forest Park, but time allowed for only the three jewels below.
Like Vancouver, Canada, Portland has an exquisite classical Chinese garden within walking distance of downtown. Created by artisans from Portland’s Chinese sister city, Suzhou, the Lan Su garden combines ornate pavilions, koi-filled ponds and manicured courtyards to great effect. Carefully arranged compositions unfold as you traverse the tranquil paths, and each turn brings some new picture-perfect view. A teahouse offers light refreshments, and the garden hosts various activities, including tea tastings and poetry readings. We watched a tai chi class for a while, moving in graceful unison on the terrace of the Hall of Brocade Clouds.
Lan Su Chinese Garden
239 NW Everett Street. Tel. (503) 228-8131
Whereas the Lan Su garden is flat and compact, Portland’s 12-acre Japanese garden is sprawling and undulating, tucked into the foothills of the Tualatin Mountains just northwest of downtown. After a rather lengthy uphill walk through a forest, the Tsubo-Niwa, one of the garden’s distinct green spaces, appears. It overlooks the Strolling Pond Garden in the small valley below, centerpieced by the elegant arc of a traditional wooden bridge, and includes an exhibition space and an attractive gift shop. The more prosaically named Flat Garden is equally lovely, with well-groomed shrubbery and trees surrounding an expanse of raked gravel — surely the garden’s most beautiful space in autumn. The minimalist Umami Café has a limited menu and views over the entrance path below. Note that the parking lots, which serve the International Rose Test Garden (see below) and the Japanese Garden, can fill up by 11 or 12 p.m. in the season.
Portland Japanese Garden
611 SW Kingston Avenue. Tel. (503) 223-1321
The crown jewel of Portland’s gardens celebrated its centennial this year. Covering four and a half acres of terraced hillsides across the street from the Japanese Garden, the International Rose Test Garden, part of Washington Park, never fails to impress me, and I make a point of visiting every time I’m in the city. The view from the entry at the top, encompassing a colorful pointillist carpet of roses backed by a slice of the downtown skyline, is breathtaking. In the garden itself, delicate and delicious fragrances suffuse the air. Some 550 varieties of rose flourish here. Many say the garden peaks in June, but there was no shortage of blooms when we visited in September.
International Rose Test Garden
400 SW Kingston Avenue. Tel. (503) 823-3664