Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Portland Japanese Garden


Before I set off on my bicycle, I hit up some of the landscape sites of Portland. The Japanese garden was at the top of my agenda, and it’s every bit as great as I had heard. Of all the Japanese gardens I’ve visited, Portland’s is the exemplar, filled with the carefully composed naturalism that Japanese gardens are famous for, plants carefully layered, views carefully framed, everything harmonious, suffused with careful deliberate subtlety. After a while, sitting on the benches, strolling the paths, pausing at the pausing spots, I did begin to feel somewhat like an actor hitting my marks, that everywhere I paused had been predetermined by the garden’s designers and that every view I looked at had been carefully composed to take my eye to a predetermined focal point. But the effect was genuine; I felt calm and harmonious. It’s the most expansive Japanese garden I’ve ever been to, the most subtle, and the most discretely meticulous.


The above Japanese Maple might be one of the most photographed specimens in the country. It’s perfectly pruned and sited on a slight rise so that you feel yourself invited to look up into its canopy.


All the paths were great. I like the way these contrasting stones are combined, with the larger, brighter granite pieces like stepping stones within the overall path. This path led into a tea garden with all of the classic elements, but it was closed to the public while I was there, so I wasn’t able to do the tea garden journey.



A wonderfully austere bench vignette.


Another nice pathway. A warmer piece of stone subtly marks the threshold.



Everything in the garden felt distinctly un-coincidental, like the way the herringbone pattern of the bamboo fencing echoed the herringbone of the bamboo leaves growing in front of it.


It was nice to get a bird’s eye view of the obligatory zen garden. There’s a much more interesting gravel and moss garden in another part of the garden but shadows made it not worth photographing.

It was great to see everything after years of knowing this garden only from photos. I’d love to see the garden at another time of year with better light, and I’m pretty sure I’ll manage another visit within the next couple of years. To see the garden in foggy, fall-color glory, check out this post from RhoneStreetGardens last October.

2 Responses to “Portland Japanese Garden”

  1. September 5th, 2014 at 7:40 am

    Town Mouse says:

    Yes! I so enjoyed seeing that garden this summer. And yes, it felt as if everything was part of the experience – birds, people, stonework (loved the roof tile edging to some of the paths).

    Next, I think, you have to travel to Kyoto and see the gardens there. I did that maybe a decade ago, and was amazed by the variety – from very austere to quite flashy. I think I saw 1 or 2 gardens a day for a week. Then I was happy to be back in my own dry, natural habitat garden.

  2. September 14th, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    ryan says:

    You’re right, I would love to tour the gardens in Kyoto. I’m sure I will some day…

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