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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

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

In keeping with both the International and Test themes, a border of David Austin English roses undergoing evaluation for American gardens greets visitors in the parking lot. Beyond the entrance ramp, a view opens to a wide, multi-level hillside terrace of more than 200 rose beds set in a formal grid of brick and grass walkways. A vista point in the Rose Queen’s Walk at the far edge of the garden promises panoramic views over the city to the summit of Mount Hood - when it’s not raining, of course.

As a light drizzle obscured the view my eye was attracted to scattered groups of brightly-striped and utility black umbrellas. Their hidden bearers advanced slowly through rows of deep green foliage laden with blooms glowing in rich, saturated colors under the overcast sky.

As if carefully sprayed by an invisible hand, pearlescent beads of moisture clung to each petal’s surface. Undeterred by the steadily increasing rainfall, laughing groups of young people snapped damp selfies and bridal parties posed valiantly for wedding photos.

Every bed is filled with massed groups of familiar and exotic floribunda, grandiflora, hybrid tea, polyanthas, and other types of shrubs, bushes, climbers, trees, and miniatures roses. A list published annually identifies over 600 types and their locations.

Popular Peace, Mr. Lincoln, Just Joey, Brandy, Betty Boop and Bewitched varieties thrive alongside Rosa canina (dog rose), a cutting from a 1,000 year old German plant, and Madame Caroline Testout, a survivor from 50,000 bushes that lined city streets for the 1905 Lewis and Clark Expo. Areas of specialty interest include the Royal Rosarian, Shakespeare, Gold Medal, and Miniature Rose gardens, and the American Garden Rose Selections (AGRS) test areas.

Portland Japanese Garden

A steep path near the entrance to the Rose Garden leads up to the Portland Japanese Garden, a collection of traditional landscapes billed as “Four Seasons. Five Senses. One Extraordinary Experience.” A shuttle service operates for those unable to make the climb — check for days and times of operation.

Also be aware that construction is underway on an expansion of the property beyond the current 5.5 acres to accommodate 10 times more visitors than anticipated when it opened in 1967. The work did not impinge on our visit.

Beyond the antique tile-roofed entrance gate and under a fragrant wisteria arbor, a paved perimeter path leads in a clockwise direction through five distinct garden areas in Tea, Strolling Pond, Natural, Flat, and Sand and Stone styles.

Visitors are encouraged repeat the journey in the opposite direction to fully experience these idealized representations of nature created using the primary elements of stone, water, and plants.

Intimate walkways meandered alongside streams and waterfalls. Reflecting pools live with koi were spanned by moon and zig zag bridges.

Brown and gray tones and textures of stones, pagodas, lanterns, arbors, pavilions and gnarled tree trunks complemented the soft, damp, emerald-green of moss and mounded azalea bushes dappled with brilliant blooms of pink, white and deepest red.

The garden designer, Professor Takuma Tono, also incorporated taller native American trees to blend with the forested Washington Park setting. On this day their high canopy provided welcome shelter against the increasing intensity of the rain.

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden

Described as one of “the world’s finest collections of rhododendrons and azaleas in an idyllic woodland setting,” our final garden of the day was located across the Willamette River next to the Reed College campus. Created in 1950, Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden comprises seven-acres of over 2,000 species of rare ericaceous and companion plants and trees set around a spring-fed lake.

Paved, several recently upgraded for ADA compliance, and dirt paths lead around distinct “island” and “peninsula” areas of the garden that jut out into the water. Near the entrance, a high-arched bridge formed from laminated-wood beams revealed aerial views of the lake, several waterfalls, and brilliant shows of flowering azaleas and rhododendrons. Dramatic foliage color replaces them in the fall.

By now the storm was in full force. Raindrops hissed on the lake, ducks sheltered under the willows, yet families pushing plastic-shrouded baby buggies continued to stroll and admire the floral display in typically stoic Portland style.

As Sinatra crooned so many years ago, “Surely here was charm beyond compare …’twas just a garden in the rain.”

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