Despite the Garden being surrounded by taller buildings, you never have the feeling of being watched. Lan Su really is a little microcosm of solitude in and of itself.
The Lan Su Garden is a true gem in our city. It is a garden the size of a city block, which was built as a collaboration between Portland and its sister city Suzhou in the Jiangsu province in China. Every time I go, I see new things. The last time I was there, I marveled at many of the details. Because it was a rainy day, I noticed things that I probably otherwise wouldn’t have, and in the gray mist, the colors appeared deeper and richer.
Every time I’m there, it seems, I photograph the paving. Intricate patterns of stone chips, pebbles and mortar.
You know how a mitered corner eventually looses its sharpness and gets chipped and is worn away? Notice how the Chinese deal with that annoyance. Very elegantly, they fit the two blocks so that one side is cut as a square, to prevent the inevitable chipping.
Here is another application of the same principle.
Like the disc between two load-bearing vertebrae, the weight transferred by the column is poetically expressed in how it rests on a flattened base. Also, notice how the addition of a small square in the corner gives the appearance of the base being “centered”. This small addition restores the visual balance of the composition.
Once inside the gate, in the inner courtyard, the paving pattern changes. By simply changing the direction of the small stones, the pattern expands outward and each side differentiates itself from the others. So subtle and beautiful.
I love how the same shape is used to delineate the transition from the inner courtyard. Notice also that on the other side, the colors are inverted – the field color changes from light to dark.
Once you stand on the walkway leading across the water…
…, you can’t help but notice the wood work in the roof structure emphasizing where most of the weight distribution is – on the corners.
If you let your eye slide downward, along the column, you’ll notice a glimpse of the same compressed cushion as before, except this time it is merely implied in the stonework. There is also that familiar inset square that breaks with the surrounding texture.
Here, the column is anchoring an inverted corner. By now, you probably expect it to be sitting squarely in the center of a square, and you would be right.
Notice the intricately sculpted roof tiles. The pointed wedges have a purpose too, as you will soon see. The tree is a Koelreuteria paniculata, or Goldenrain Tree – a small tree, native to China. It is also a fairly common street tree here in Portland.
Terrible photo, I know, but you get the idea. The pointed wedges provide a drip edge for the rain water which on this particular day was plentiful.
The fruits of the dwarf pomegranate were positively glowing.
And, the white light shone through the red rose petals, rendering them translucent.
The Lan Su Garden is one of my favorite places for textural inspiration.
The massive leaves of Podophylum pleianthum. And I found some comfort in seeing it surrounded by the masses of leaves from the nearby Magnolia grandiflora. Apparently, massive leaf drop is not unique to my tree.
The Tea House and a magnificent Weeping Katsura across the pond. From this angle, the stone looks as if it has taken the place of the tree trunk.
The Koi were laying low, so the water lilies provided the eye candy, their leaves covered in water droplets.
This plant puzzled both my friend and fellow plant geek Michele and I. Anyone know what it is? The color is spectacular!
View outside the Tea House.
I think this is a Bletilla – a hardy type of orchid. Notice that just like in the Japanese Garden, the Chinese builders use roof tiles for edging. Chinese Gardens have evolved over 3,000 years. Not until the 6th century C.E., did they teach the craft to the Japanese, so I dare proclaim our Chinese friends were first!
Quietly, yet insistently, the rain kept coming down. This garden is a beautiful place to be on a rainy day, in the company of a dear friend.
On the bridge near the waterfall, we stopped to admire what the water did to the carved stone flower.
No matter what time of year one visits, there are lovelies at their prime. Here are tall Honorine de Jobert anemones, Begonias, and Loriope en masse.
This corner was starkly and distinctly vertical – greatly contrasting the lushness in the previous photo.
A flowering (and fruiting!) banana.
The scent of wonderfully fragrant Gardenias wafted our way as we reached the inner courtyard again, having gone full circle.
Under the watchful eye of the resident Dragon, we concluded our visit to this magical place.
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!
Enjoyed that immensely. There is a Chinese Garden in Sydney and I would often walk there to read in the Reading Pavilion, and also to play Mahjong. I love the Moon Gates but I have never seen one in the shape above. Maybe it is a Petal Gate?
Oh, isn’t it a wonderful place to immerse yourself in? I’ve never been to the one in Sydney, but I can imagine it has the same effect on the senses. Everything slows down and the appreciation receptors open up wide! Mahjong, huh? I’ve been trying to write a post on Mahjong since this summer when I learned how to play. It’s such a fun game, but I find it very hard to explain in writing… I love your idea of a Petal Gate. I think I will call it that from now on!
That is such a beautiful garden, and I enjoyed your commentary on the architectural and design details, not realizing there were so many little things I didn’t notice when we were in Portland back in the spring. I was at Lan Su on a rainy day too.
Oh Alison – it took me a few times to settle down enough to absorb those little details. It is such an exhilarating place that it’s hard to take it all in. Hope your back is better, and that you can visit again soon!
Great photos!!! You really captured this lovely garden, on many levels. I am surprised though, that you didn’t include an image of the Iris confusa!
Omg – you just made me snort over my oatmeal! You’re right – how could I possibly forget???
I think your mystery plant may be Tracelospermum jasminoides (Star Jasmine or Confederate Jasmine). I have a few of these (they’re a popular vine/groundcover here) and the older leaves on the one that receives the most sun and the least water habitually develops the same red coloration in the fall/winter (previously pictured on my own blog). Although few of the grower sites refer to the seasonal color change, I was able to find multiple references to the red coloration on-line.
Hmmm… vaguely possible, but these leaves are quite a bit smaller than those of a Star Jasmine. It’s hard to see in the photo without a scale reference, but they are almost the size of Vinca leaves – maybe just 1/4″ longer… For a while, I was thinking Hypericum tricolor, but those only have red edges… I’m still puzzled.
Kris – of course you are right! It’s been a couple of years since I wrote this post, and I was just re-reading it. By now, I have learned that there is more to Trachelospermum than just Star Jasmine. Oh, the learning curve… 🙂
I loved seeing this favorite place (especially in the rain) through your eyes. I think they should have a barefoot day, when we can experience the changing textures underfoot.
A barefoot day – I love it! That would certainly add to the sensory experience! 🙂
Thanks so much for the tour. That weeping katsura is fantastic, and I love all the small stones used in the paving. I hope to see this garden when I am in Portland next summer.
I imagine you will be here for the Fling? Yes – do make time for it – you won’t regret it. It is a good place for lunch, which they serve in the Tea House.
Wow! It’s impressive that all of that is in Portland. Now I really have to visit.
YES – YOU DO!!!
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Again, we read here misconception of “first” suggesting better.
No, Tony – I suggested they were first. Just that.
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