The landscape artists of Portland have crafted prize-winning gardens that glow with color and style even under the often overcast, damp and drizzle endemic to the “City of Roses.”
As Frank Sinatra so eloquently put it in his recording of “A Garden in the Rain,” they provide “ touch of color ‘neath skies of gray.”
Portland boasts an urban wilderness of more than 200 parks within the city limits. Four of them are world-class destinations. Their range of cultural, sculptural and horticultural features offers something to delight the eye throughout every season of the year.
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden blazes with luminous blossom in spring and foliage color in fall. The International Rose Test Garden peaks in June and lasts through late summer. And no matter how gray the skies, two traditional Asian landscapes exhibit masterfully crafted details that endure after their floral displays have faded.
Lan Su Chinese Garden
“Most cherished in this mundane world is a place without traffic; truly in the midst of a city there can be mountain and forest.” This praise of a 16th-century philosopher’s urban sanctuary in Suzhou, China, rings true today in downtown Portland.
Interpreted poetically as “Garden of Awakening Orchids,” Lan Su Chinese Garden is one of just nine on the North America continent and is considered the most authentic outside of its homeland. Enclosing over 300 plant species in a setting of water, exotic Lake Tai rocks and authentic recreations of historic structures interconnected by bridges and pathways, the walled compound offers a window into Chinese culture and history.
More than just a beautiful garden, Lan Su melds art, architecture, design and nature in perfect harmony.
Visitors enter through the Courtyard of Tranquility and follow a path linking halls, pavilions and rooms for family living, relaxation, and scholarly studies around a central lake. A carefully choreographed succession of landscapes unfolds with each new vista. Windows and doorways are placed to draw attention to specific elements that change with the weather, the seasons, and as the light shifts across the day.
Even under the gray, threatening sky of our visit, the water reflected soft light throughout the complex. Generous plantings of bamboo, pine, and plum, the Three Friends of Winter, insure beauty, color, and texture through the coldest season of the year.
The Tower of Cosmic Reflections, a two story teahouse, pairs the symbolism of the garden with ancient tea culture. A selection of oolong, green, black, white, and other teas as well as snacks and light meals allows those planning a full day of garden visits to rest and refuel before traveling the three miles uphill to Washington Park.
International Rose Test Garden
Proclaimed the “City of Roses” as early as 1888 and its official nickname since 2003, Portland is renowned for its public display of some 8,000 individual plants encompassing hundreds of varieties. Conceived as a sanctuary for European hybrid blooms threatened with extinction during World War I, the first cuttings arrived in 1918 and the garden and amphitheater were dedicated in 1924.
One of just 20 worldwide to achieve the distinction, the site was recognized in 2006 the World Federation of Rose Societies with a Garden of Excellence Award. With over one-half million visitors each year, the 4.5 acre International Rose Test Garden is one of Oregon’s most popular urban destinations.
If you go
Lan Su Chinese Garden: 239 Northwest Everett St., Portland; lansugarden.org
International Rose Test Garden: 400 SW Rose Park Road, Portland; bit.ly/1tue5sj
Portland Japanese Garden: 611 SW Kingston Ave., Portland; japanesegarden.com
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden: 5801 SE 28th Ave, Portland; bit.ly/1sJRkjU