A classical Chinese garden

A Chinese garden that's right at home in the US

Photos by Judy Lowe/The Christian Science Monitor
Photos by Judy Lowe/The Christian Science Monitor

Everyone who visits Portland, Ore., knows about its outstanding Japanese Garden -- one of the best in the United States. But fewer visitors have heard of the city's Classical Chinese Garden -- and that's a shame.

The Chinese Garden isn't nearly as large as the Japanese one, which makes it more of an intimate experience -- and definitely worth a trip. I was impressed.

I'm not expert enough to explain the true differences between traditional Japanese and Chinese gardens, but generally I tend to think of Japanese gardens as minimalist and understated but teeming in symbolism.

There's abundant symbolism in this Chinese garden -- which was designed as a miniaturization of nature -- but, as you'll see from the photos, the structures are much more ornate and elaborate than usually found in (what I, at least, think of as) a typical Japanese garden.

According to the docents, a classical Chinese garden contains five elements -- architecture, plants, stone, water, and poetry. Don't you love the idea of including poetry in the garden?

The garden -- a collaboration between Portland and its sister city, Suzhou, China (near Shanghai), which was founded in 514 BC -- opened in 2000.  It's mostly in the style of a Ming Dynasty garden (AD 1368-1644), with care taken to match the plants with Portland's climate.

I was interested to learn that although the materials for the walls, buildings, and walkways came from China and were constructed by artisans from Suzhou, the plants were all obtained in the US. (Still, 90 percent of the plants are indigenous to China.)

At the entrance to the garden -- known in Chinese as Lan Su Yuan -- plant lovers will want to pick up the list of what will be blooming in the garden during that month and where they're located in the garden.

There were 40 plants on the September list when I visited, an amazing number, I thought, for a garden this size.

As I wandered from one well-defined area to another --  the Celestial Hall of Permeating Fragrance, the Knowing the Fish Pavilion, the Tower of Cosmic Reflections -- I came to understand part of the mission of the garden: "to cultivate an oasis of tranquil beauty and harmony."

It was so peaceful, I didn't want to leave. So I highly recommend a visit.

Although I've posted more photos than usual (and here are some more), why not take a virtual tour and see for yourself?

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