Portland is rightly and justly lauded for many reasons, but the beauty of its landscape and urban architecture isn’t one of them.
With garden-of-eden nature brushing right up against the bleeding edges of the city limits and Mount Hood towering over it in the distance, it doesn’t really need it. But look a little closer and you’ll find 10,000 acres of public parks amid the concrete and sprawl of the city. Among these, a handful of carefully manicured gardens really are Portland’s diamonds in the rough. Here are three that stood out to me.
Lan Su Chinese Garden
Occupying a whole block between downtown Portland and the Pearl, Lan Su really is a haven of tranquility right in the centre of the city. Centred around a lake are a number of traditional courtyards and pavilions built with stone imported from China. About 90 percent of the plants found in the garden are indigenous to China.
Admission to the gardens is $10 for adults, which I would happily pay again. A programme of events means you may encounter something going on in the visit. I saw a number of artists at work and paused to enjoy the live music in the Hall of Brocade Clouds right by the entrance.
I also recommend retreating to the two-storey Tao teahouse at the far side of the garden for cookies, dim sum and tea. Looking out at the lotus flowers floating on the lake with a cup of steaming jasmine tea in your hands is such a blissful experience that it’s making me wistful just writing about.
Portland Japanese Garden
Ever since I visited Japan in spring 2016 I take any opportunity I can to enjoy a slice of Japanese culture. The Japanese Garden in Portland is one the best examples I’ve seen of such a garden outside of Japan, and I’m not the only one to think so — its won praise from the Japanese ambassador to the US and Japanese gardening experts, who in 2013 rated the best Japanese Garden in North America.
Thanks to its place amid the towering trees on a hillside in Washington Park, the garden feels like a serene little world all of its own. There are eight different spaces in the garden and its worth exploring them all at a leisurely pace. I particularly enjoyed the “strolling pond garden” (pictured above and below) with its waterfall and zigzagging bridge. These kinds of gardens were particularly popular in Japan in the Edo period and inspired much art and poetry.
Tickets to the garden are $15 for adults.
International Rose Test Garden
Portland has a who;e bunch of nicknames, but one of them is “city of roses”. No surprise then that it boasts the oldest continuously operating public rose test garden in the United States. With 650 varieties of roses on display and 10,000 bushes to admire, as well as unparalleled views over the cities, this should be on anyone’s list of things to see when in Portland. Best of all? Entry is free to this one.
Predictably, my favourite section was the Shakespeare Garden, which is full of roses named after Shakespeare characters. There’s also a raised seating area, making this a nice area to sit and chill for a while.
The roses are supposed to be at their best in June, but when I was there in July it still felt like most were in full bloom.
So there you have it, three perfect, peaceful gardens to explore in Portland — they’re the ideal antidote to all those breweries and food trucks you’ll no doubt frequenting downtown.
What are your favourite urban gardens or parks? Let me know in the comments!
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