Monday, January 4, 2010

Lan Su Chinese Garden

When it comes to gardens, there is more than an ocean’s worth of difference in Western/European and Asian concepts. While our Western ideas of garden design may include neatly trimmed hedges, showy blossoms, expanses of green lawn, statuary, or mathematically ordered plantings, a traditional Asian garden is something entirely different. In Portland, the two counterparts live side by side in Washington Park with the International Rose Garden and Japanese Garden exemplifying these very different styles.

Over the years, Japanese gardens have become plentiful and popular in this country, but Chinese gardens are somewhat new and unfamiliar. There are only nine public Chinese gardens in the U.S and Portland is fortunate to have an outstanding representative. The Portland Classical Chinese Garden developed from the sister-city relationship with Suzhou, China, an ancient town near Shanghai, famous for its many gardens. Although the idea of creating a traditional, Suzhou-style scholar garden in Portland had been discussed for some time, it wasn’t until NW Natural offered the city a downtown block of land used as a parking lot that the dream became a reality. Construction, including the importing of 500 tons of rock and a team of artisans from China, began, and the garden opened to the public in 2000.

While occupying only one city block in the Old Town section, the walled garden manages to encapsulate the scholar-style gardens from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD). The traditional, required elements of rocks, water, plants, architecture and poetry work together to create a place for contemplation of nature.

The rocks, quarried from China’s Lake Tai and highly desired for their rough texture, shape and holes are piled at one end of the garden to represent mountains. The strength and solidity of the rocks are balanced by water, and Lake Zither in the center of the garden reflects the changing sky above. Plants including bamboo, pine, rhododendron, camellias, chrysanthemums, and peonies were selected for their symbolism as well as beauty. Architecture, as the primary element of design, is featured by several pavilions, open-style buildings, and a teahouse connected by a series of paths and bridges. Since poetry writing and recitation were essential to a scholar’s garden, many of the doorways and buildings are marked with literary inscriptions. All of the elements combine to create a spot of tranquility and beauty far removed from the 21st-century city beyond the walls.

In celebration of their 10-year anniversary in 2010, the garden is changing its name and is no longer known as the Portland Classical Chinese Garden, but the Lan Su Chinese Garden. The new name is a combination of  "Lan" meaning Portland and "Su" for Suzhou. For the first ten days of January, admission is free so be sure to take advantage of this freebie.

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