Subtle, simple and sensual – material expressions in the Japanese Garden

One of the top destinations in our fair city – in my book, at least – is the Japanese Garden. It never disappoints. Every time I go, I see new things, depending on light, weather, seasons – what have you. This last time around, armed with my camera, I set out to document some of the many beautiful expressions accomplished with a just a few recurring materials – wood, bamboo, twine, stone, gravel, water and plant material. The variety in its simplicity is astounding. Take for example the fences. Consisting only of different combinations of bamboo, wood, twine, and by masterful exploitation of positive and negative space, they achieve an astonishing variety in expression.

Here is one of the more elaborate ones, looking out over the Flat Garden.

Here is one of the more elaborate ones, looking out over the gravelly expanses of the  Flat Garden.

The carefully worked intersection of the round and square rails as they meet at the corner. Beautiful!

The carefully worked intersection of the round and square rails as they meet at the corner. Beautiful!

A much more humble wooden fence in the Natural Garden.

A much more humble wood and twine fence in the Natural Garden.

 

A bamboo fence along the edge of the Garden, screening the view beyond, and making a perfect backdrop to the pine in the foreground.

A bamboo fence along the edge of the Garden, screening the view beyond, and making a perfect backdrop to the pine in the foreground.

Here the upper portions of the bamboo screen is broken up by wooden planks.

Here the upper portions of the bamboo screen is broken up by wooden planks.

Another variety on the same theme - narrower planks of wood evenly interspersed throughout.

Another variety on the same theme – narrower planks of wood evenly interspersed throughout. I love the weathered wood against the bamboo.

The corner details of this bamboo fence are lovely, yet so simple.

The intersecting corner detail of this bamboo fence is lovely, yet so simple.

Here the bamboo butts up against a considerably heavier end post.

Here the bamboo butts up against a considerably heavier end post.

A much more transparent and lower screen with a more practical intention - Don't walk this way!

A much more transparent and lower screen with a more practical intention – Don’t walk this way!

Same here. This fence prevents visitors from walking up to the pond's edge near the Tea Garden. The fence follows the direction of the stream in the background, and is echoed by a row of stones that edge the paved walkway.

Same here. This fence prevents visitors from walking up to the pond’s edge near the Tea Garden. The fence follows the direction of the stream in the background, and is echoed by a row of stones that edge the paved walkway.

This screens one of the Garden's service areas, and sets off the trunk and  sheer foliage of a large maple.

This screens one of the Garden’s service areas, and sets off the trunk and sheer foliage of a large maple.

Here a road is edited out in an otherwise densely wooded area, but there is a simpler fence in front of the screen. I wonder if that delineates  a service path for the gardeners?

Here a road is edited out in an otherwise densely wooded area, but there is a simpler fence in front of the screen. I wonder if that delineates a service path for the gardeners?

So far, you've probably noticed how most of the fences have featured a horizontal, directional flair. Here is the first break with that trend - the wooden fence at the end of the Tea Garden, perched atop a stone wall. The verticality of this screen seems to indicate that this is a defined end to your stroll. It is - you can't get any further in this direction without leaving the Tea Garden. The more permanent mode of materials and construction lets you know the importance of this spot, and the bench invites a moment of reflection.

So far, you’ve probably noticed how most of the fences have featured a horizontal, directional flair. Here is the first break with that trend – the mostly wooden fence at the end of the Tea Garden, perched atop a stone wall. The verticality of this screen seems to indicate that this is a defined end to your stroll. It is – you can’t get any further in this direction without leaving the Tea Garden. The more permanent mode of materials and construction lets you know the importance of this spot, and the bench invites a moment of reflection.

Looking in the other direction, this fence invites a view into the Tea Garden itself.

Looking in the other direction, this fence invites a view into the Tea Garden itself.

Another vertical screen - here made with wood and panels of woven thin culms of bamboo.

Another vertical screen – here made with wood and panels of woven thin culms of bamboo. Yet another spot for some quiet meditation.

Another transparent bamboo fence, except this feels a little more determined. Despite its relative simplicity, its situation atop a mossy stone wall, and the visual weight of the bundled bamboo rails, it carries more weight than most of its simpler counterparts.

Another transparent bamboo fence, except this feels a little more determined. Despite its relative simplicity – its situation atop a mossy stone wall and the visual weight of the bundled bamboo rails, carries more weight than most of its simpler counterparts.

This bridge rail leads you over a stream toward the Tea Garden.

This bridge rail leads you over a stream toward the Tea Garden.

 

Its importance is emphasized not only by its construction, but also by its decoration.

Its importance is emphasized not only by its heavy construction, but also by its decoration.

Here, wooden slats are laid on the flat to create a low border at the edge of the Natural Garden. If you look carefully, you can see the chain link fence in the background, higher up in the photo. The visual density of the horizontal slats detracts from the necessary metal barrier beyond.

Here, wooden slats are laid on the flat to create a low border at the edge of the Natural Garden. If you look carefully, you can see the chain link fence in the background, higher up in the photo. The visual density of the horizontal slats detracts from the necessary metal barrier beyond.

Not so much  a fence as a feature that draws your eye forward - a series of heavy timber posts placed along the stream in the Natural Garden. For all I know, they may serve a structural role in securing the slope carrying the man-made stream, but have been left exposed as a visual feature. It certainly works, and adds to the sculptural experience.

Not so much a fence as a feature that draws your eye forward – a series of heavy timber posts placed along the stream in the Natural Garden. For all I know, they may serve a structural role in securing the slope carrying the man-made stream, but have been left exposed as a visual feature. It certainly works, and adds to the sculptural experience.

For as simple as it is - this is one of my favorites! Light as a feather, it most definitely sets a boundary - split lengths of bamboo simply set into the ground. I also like the mounded pattern it creates, which mirrors the forms of the carefully pruned trees and shrubs it contains.

For as simple as it is – this is one of my favorites! Light as a feather, it most definitely sets a boundary – split lengths of bamboo simply set into the ground. I also like the mounded pattern it creates, which mirrors the forms of the carefully pruned trees and shrubs it contains.

On this boardwalk through the Iris Pond, the rails have been turned on the diagonal. Not sure if this was intentional, but sharp corners are most certainly a pretty uncomfortable place to sit and ponder. Moving on...

On this boardwalk through the Iris Pond, the rails have been turned on the diagonal. Not sure if this was intentional, but sharp corners are most certainly a pretty uncomfortable place to sit and ponder. Moving on…

Back at the Tea House, there are all kinds of directional devices at work. So far, we've paid the most attention to those that physically block your way, but there are also many examples of more subtle delineations that have no presence beyond the visual.

Back at the Tea House, there are all kinds of directional devices at work. So far, I’ve paid the most attention to those that physically block your way, but there are also many examples of more subtle delineations that have no presence beyond the visual.

This is a snapshot of the formal entrance to the Garden down below. Take a special note of the stoneware tiles that adorn the wall.

This is a snapshot of the formal entrance to the Garden down below. Take a special note of the stoneware tiles that adorn the wall.

Here are those same tiles again, inserted into the ground to delineate your path.

Here are those same tiles again, inserted into the ground to delineate your path.

An astounding palette of materials convening at this intersection - honed granite blocks, flag stone, roof tiles, pebbles, moss, wood, bamboo, and twine.

An astounding palette of materials convening at this intersection – honed granite blocks, flag stone, roof tiles, pebbles, moss, wood, bamboo, and twine.

Here is a mix of the stone and the rectangular blocks laid out in a carefully crafted formal path. The blend of textures heightens your awareness of where you walk, which is exactly the point.

Here is a mix of stone and rectangular blocks laid out in a carefully crafted formal path. The blend of textures heightens your awareness of where you walk, which is exactly the point.

I love how the round stone pavers break loose from the concrete pad of the Tea House and crosses the tiles and pebbles on its way out to the Tea Garden. Such a fun play on priorities! It is obvious which one is there to be followed!

I love how the round stone pavers break loose from the concrete pad of the Tea House and crosses the tiles and pebbles on its way out to the Tea Garden. Such a fun play on priorities! It is obvious which one is there to be followed!

Around the Garden, you come across these large, flat stepping stones. They were used as ballast on the ships that once sailed between Portland and Asia. And here they are used as pavers in a garden that was built on the site of the original Portland Zoo! They were here long before any of us were, and they will be here when we're gone. There is a lot to be said for that kind of permanence...

Around the Garden, you come across these large, flat stepping stones. They were used as ballast on the ships that once sailed between Portland and Asia. And here they are used as pavers in a garden that was built on the site of the original Portland Zoo! They were here long before any of us were, and they will be here when we’re gone. There is a lot to be said for that kind of permanence…

In this shot from the courtyard behind the main pavilion, the granite slabs lead you to the hedge that ends your path - precisely at the spot where you behold the breathtaking view of our local mountain, Mt Hood. At this particular time, however, Mt Hood has some competition. The sculptures in the background are part of an exhibit chronicling the work of Japanese-American sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi, which will be on display through July 21.

In this shot from the courtyard behind the main pavilion, the granite slabs lead you to the hedge that ends your path – precisely at the spot where you behold the breathtaking view of our local mountain, Mt Hood. At this particular time, however, Mt Hood has some competition. The sculptures in the background are part of an exhibit chronicling the work of Japanese-American sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi, which will be on display through July 21.

This quote by him - on display by the Pavilion which houses most of the exhibit, pretty much sums it up. In terms of a suitable space to showcase his life's work, I can't think of a better place than the Japanese Garden. I think Mr. Noguchi would agree - don't you?

This quote by him – on display by the Pavilion which houses most of the exhibit, pretty much sums it up. In terms of a suitable space to showcase his life’s work, I can’t think of a better place than Portland’s Japanese Garden. I think Mr. Noguchi would agree – don’t you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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9 Responses to Subtle, simple and sensual – material expressions in the Japanese Garden

  1. Ricki Grady says:

    The attention to detail in the Japanese Gardens is truly amazing, as is your attention to those details in this post. We were just talking, this morning, about getting there to see the Noguchi exhibit and stroll through the ever-fascinating garden.

    • annamadeit says:

      Thanks Ricki! I hope you make it up there soon. We are planning to visit the Noguchi show as a family tomorrow. When I was there last, I was there chaperoning one of my kids’ school class, so I didn’t really get to see the show. Can’t wait! 🙂

  2. Pingback: A stroll through the Lan Su Garden | The Creative Flux

  3. Pingback: An evening at the Japanese Garden | The Creative Flux

  4. mjgcarlamorim says:

    Very interesting article! Thank you, your detailed view is quite inspiring!
    Best regards!

  5. anjana sharma says:

    i want to born in japan….god please hear my prayer

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