Portland’s Chinese Garden – Part 1

It’s been a while – 2008 – since I began this series on Portland’s Chinese Garden. In the meantime, as is the case with any garden, much has occurred. A very few plants failed, a few were relocated, some overly ripe stuff was replaced based purely on taste. For a notable period, a leak was found in the water feature part of the garden, chased down and then repaired – a relatively constant plague or at least a danger, for almost any water feature, anywhere.

Generally, however, little has changed overall. Eventually, the huge Weeping Willow will become problematic with its invasive root systems and the softer wood becoming perhaps snow – or ice – laden during some Winter storm and affecting its shape. But all in all, it has matured very gracefully into a focal point destination inside a gorgeous city.

I have revised some of these older posts, tinkering around with pictures and script, but altogether I am very happy with these posts. I hope they give as much pleasure as I got from writing them and from helping construct this masterpiece. This series deals with some of the tales of its emergence out of the city block-wide big hole where it began.

The Portland Chinese Garden was a combined effort between a company from Portland, Oregon’s sister city, the incredible Sou Zhou, and, well basically, the Mayor of Portland. It was at various points a hot political potato with mounting criticisms from all the usual political-type sources (which usually means an opposing party, naturally) in an era of average or worse¬†resources, following the ‘Dot Com” bust which negatively impacted Portland having long since gone “all in” on high tech. However, Portland was even then showing the strength of a reasonably well-planned expansion, complete with very innovative and successful local corporations, such as Intel, Nike and a million smart subsidiary businesses to Microsoft just up the road in Seattle.

We spent an interesting meeting in the Mayor’s office once, proposing an idea that she accepted with joy and hopefulness – naming various trees and baubles for the largest donors. For a price, of course. ūüėČ ¬†Well, it worked. But my favorite interactions were always with the Chinese who also worked hard on this lovely project. Constant smiles, elaborate bows and exclamations, tons of laughter and the joy of sharing and cooperation made it entirely special to me.

I’m going to recirculate an entire series of Chinese Garden construction factoids and tales from its construction, which I was integral to. It was easily the neatest gig I was ever a part of and I was fairly high up in the work and liaison stream, then working for Teufel’s Nurseries, a $40 million a year business in early 1996.

Enjoy a ride through some of the highlights of this project.

Oh – by the way – Portlanders are inordinately proud of this Garden. It gets heavy traffic 12 months a year.

(You can enlarge each picture by clicking – sometimes twice.)

Set solidly right in the very depths of downtown Portland, Oregon, the Chinese Garden is serene and mind-boggling at the same time. The fact that the locals understand this is implicit – basically placed smack in the middle of the Chinese District, it has a congruity within the city itself. Leaving the Garden, you can go shop at stores specializing in Chinese items or eat at any number of bordering restaurants. Portland is an immensely satisfying walking town, although an umbrella is de rigueur during the drippy Winter months.

But of course, that is not the entire story, and especially as it relates to this blog. That the Garden is a gorgeous feast for the eyes and senses is pretty much a no brainer. I will address that pictorially. How it relates here is my own small involvement with it and it may take a post or two to finish.

At the time, I was living in Portland and working for Teufel’s Landscaping, a very large and successful nursery and landscaping firm who counted their clients among those they have worked for or supplied for over 100 years. Among their clients were the Nike and Microsoft Campuses, golf courses, Intel’s booming Portland base and countless others. In residential landscaping, I have myself worked for some notable people. When the mayor of Portland decided she wanted this Garden in conjunction with Portland’s sister city, they tried and eventually found the approximately $12 million it took to make it work. I salute Vera Katz here and now for her wonderful addition to the city and her bulldog-like tenacity in seeing it come to pass. You da gal, Vera.

Well, Teufel’s got a contract to do a number of things under the project. Once again, my good friend John Stone was instrumental in all this and was my supervisor. John’s rather bizarre mandate was to provide the local landscaping expertise dealing with irrigating the grounds, locating all of the plant materials, installing the soils and planting the plants for a project no one wanted to look “brand new”. Naturally, what this meant was that fully mature plants were to be supplied which matched the specifications and artistic needs supplied by the Chinese portion of the engineering and landscape architect class who basically designed it. It implied some stuff you just couldn’t make up, it was so far fetched. For one example, I accompanied John in an expedition down to a plant who specialized in fabricating chains. Why? Because as we found and excavated the trees, we began seeing some intimidating issues with their weight. The root balls on some of these behemoths were in the tens of tons. We already knew we would be using a 180 ton crane for placement – at the time the largest vehicle made for street travel.

Portland’s Chinese Garden – Part 2

This is an installation perspective on Portland, Oregon’s Chinese Garden which last saw the light of day 8 years ago. I’ve edited and added a few things for this iteration, but the substance remains relatively unchanged.

We pick things up at the “chain design” section, as we prepared to lift and lower the months worth of acquired plants and trees into their positions, some of which were simply gigantic.

So John had the chain designed for our needs – we needed something that could handle the weight without snapping, obviously, while shuttling these massive hand-dug trees with gigantic root balls into their eventual homes. But we also needed something we could uncouple quickly, especially difficult considering the expanse involved: many of the root balls were up to eight feet across! Anyway, this was accomplished well. ¬†It turns out, we had learned, during a first hand tutorial at the surprisingly massive chain factory down the street of the wonders of the famous “Quick Coupler”. I pointed this small element out merely to indicate the unique problems besetting an enterprise like this. Imagine an entire city block and the numbers alone of mature trees needed to complete the look. Imagine as well a stationary crane grabbing these big suckers and then delivering them to the “holes”.¬† The word is, the crane nearly toppled handling this huge Magnolia for a really far spot.

When we got there and actually commenced the work, it was early in the process. The project was basically a great open massive hole in the ground with pockets of formed concrete piers and foundations for things such as the buildings as well as support structures for bridges and walkways.¬† Irrigating this mess was intense.¬† We spent nearly a week just coring holes through all the foundations walls with a diamond drill to poke pipe through and deliver water throughout the entirety. Fortunately, the service was to be completely drip irrigation so the pipes required tended to be in the 2 inch range. We complete a complete enclosed circle, which was always the goal, and then fed off that to supply the valves and the nearly above ground piping. I hasten to add, we also had the unenviable and often nearly fruitless task of running the electrical wiring for these remote vales to tie into a central control clock. Why “nearly fruitless”?¬† Because of the insane amount of construction yet to perform before the soil we supplied and introduced could supply the padding and insulation fro construction wear and tear. Those nasty things like boots of the workers, shovels and machinery is why, any of which could expose the copper wire by cutting through the plastic sheath and render it useless and an absolute bear to locate and fix – a common lament in irrigation circles. ¬†Indeed, it turned out we did lose a couple of wires by having them cut somewhere.

The most fascinating part of the project for me was when the Chinese workers showed up. There was supposedly 150 involved, but I think that included a substantial corps of engineers and architects as well. The workers were fun and very easy to get along with.  The fact that I smoked cigarettes turned me into a popular figure, lol. I swear, I believe they all smoked. Very James Bondish of them!  But they were all easy to get along with, talented as heck, focused and extremely hard-working.  It was a pure pleasure working next to them.

So many elements of this Garden were brought from China, it’s mind-blowing.¬† Indeed, the bridges themselves were made of granite, hand-crafted back in China, many by the same guys who installed them here. Needless to say, the awesome rocks featured here were all delivered straight from China as well, including those composing the entire water feature and small mountain.

 

 

Landscape and Garden Design Implications of Water Conservation

It is almost embarrassing to live in Louisville, Kentucky owing to the current weather trends. In mid-November we have yet to experience below freezing temperatures. The entire year has been incredibly moderate with near perfect periodic rainfall supplying near-perfect landscaping conditions. The very notion of some impending drought seems ultimately wacky.

But I sympathize with other geographical micro climates, having lived there and having always suspected this pass of water angst. The ideas below may seem absurd to Kentuckians, yet many of the artistic principles are being adopted here for purely aesthetic reasons. That is a also product of smaller land areas and sometimes with homes built on tricky land forms. Urban life, of course, deals heavily with dense populations and somewhat smaller plots for homes. And – make no mistake – water will become an issue at some point, even if it implies shipping it out and allocations of local water intentionally allotted at a higher level to those in need. And now I am making this unnecessarily long.

lol

I¬†have 500 posts in a blog produced¬†over the past 9 years, making it incredibly easy to forget how many times I have addressed a topic. ūüėČ

It turns out, after a small audit, I have a dozen or more articles relating to water conservation. In reviewing these, it was almost like playing Pin The Tail On The Donkey choosing which ones to recirculate and why. But topical it remains, this entire water problem, particularly now with corporations buying water rights as a new investment tool, then undoubtedly allocating the supplies which were once free-wheeling and natural to us all. I hope the seriousness with which I view this now-growing problematic situation comes through.

All pictures in this post are of my own designs and installations. I have always felt a personal experience viewpoint delivers a more impactful statement of a subject of any complexity at all, because we can see my own adaptations to the realities, instead of it being some theoretical concept.

Water may well end up as the “new Oil”, in terms of resource value. Understanding this will matter as time goes on, especially Out West in the United States, as well as in countless other climates and continents. This is a recirculated post which – combined with a part 2 – explains how one town deals with landscaping in the midst of water shortages.

With the thought of conserving water borne foremost in mind, what does an unrepentant garden lover do to adjust to the new realities? How do we change the way we design gardens and landscapes? What fundamental changes are required in us to develop gardens in still-beautiful ways when we face so many hard decisions about social responsibility and in such a public way? Let’s face it – as I have said before, landscaping is the “Ultimate Cosmetic”. No one deals with a larger palette.

(click on pictures to enlarge)

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What do we do when we find out we have an actual budgeted amount of water use? As absurd as this question may sound, it is the height of design wisdom. Water auditing for existing landscapes and gardens have been and should take place prior to their installation or further development. A sense of how much water we have used in the past should reflect favorably on making changes to lessen them in some very specific ways. The methods are out there and the results for redeveloping existing lawns and gardens as well as for installing future ones can be and should be more than exciting, actually. There is much to learn but it does not have to be anywhere close to disastrous. The fact is, done right, we can literally make things better as opposed to merely settling for some dire end.

(click all images to enlarge)

 

What to do with grass lawns?

In the first place, the primary sponge for water in typical landscapes remains lawns. I have always maintained that cutting down lawn space actually can give a completely new and fresher look to an existing home landscape. While lawns serve a variety of functions, including a place for children to play (perhaps its most important role, IMO), they do not have to be a monolithic presence. Broken up appropriately, over time, a lawn can change into many things, among them an adjunct and contrast to new color and new features. Lawns do not have to be gigantic at all. Inasmuch as their cool characteristics make them so similar to water in a landscape design’s effects, leaving a pool or “lake” of green is wise and refreshing.

Cutting the size down to resemble a feature in their own right can include shaping them to reflect their “semi-aqueous” nature. It can set a lawn apart, actually and thereby take advantage of how glorious colors look as a backdrop to swaths of green.

Grass can be engineered to resemble a literal trail, or pathway. Instead of having a monstrous assembly of grass as a mono-colored foreground, it can lead to interesting places, offering a cool walk in bare feet to inspect the place better. At the same time we find it interesting in form as well as function. The gentle and most inviting curves of a lawn lead the eye on in a wholesome way, appreciating the structure and form of a landscape itself. It’s a bath in cooling and soothing color and texture – the perfect use of grass lawns to a designer.

Lawn grasses have been developed now which send their roots an insane depth, which require far less watering and are virtually geared to a more responsible water usage. They stay just as green for longer during Summers- in fact, more so than Bluegrass – owing to their drought tolerant natures.

My bottom line is this: so far, I have not cut out the notion of grass lawns, simply because I happen to love them. Admittedly, they should be used far, far less in desert climates – among others – and there is a body of thought that has no need whatsoever for a lawn to make a garden beautiful. In fact, let’s visit some of them now.

How do we replace lawns in design?

This is a huge and interesting subject. It reflects all that is newest in landscaping, from the array and plenitude of hard-scaping materials to even water features themselves. I realize how ironic it must seem to proclaim a water feature to be some sort of alternative method of landscaping with less water. But they do. And they do it well, indeed.

Water features recirculate water. Once filled, the same water does the same dance over and over and over – well, you get it. Yes, there can be evaporation loss and, yes, we install automatic fill mechanisms to “top off” the feature once it reaches a certain lowered level. But, even in hot and sun-drenched and hot Nevada, we rarely run a 3/4″ feed pipe more than 2 minutes a day on normal sized features, implying the use of about 30 gallons, or less than a shower a day.

Landscapes whose be-all and end-all in the past was a wide expanse of lawn studded with trees have now become far more complex and interesting. In place of the expensive water-thirsty lawn, we now have “features”, like this water feature and the pretty patio and walkway pictured here. Full of color and shape, the carnival atmosphere lightens the mood yet still provides a consistency of form and function. The ultimate irony of a landscape such as this is that, after figuring the watering costs for a lawn set ion the same place over time, this place will have comparatively paid for itself in three years. After that it is just beauty and money.

The home owner of this place below wanted lawn and nothing else. He owns a car dealership and he listened closely as we explained what the costs of lawns was and where they were headed. As a businessman, he investigated on his own as well, having some thinking fodder to work with. Delighted with his research, he assigned the water feature you see below which he thoroughly and absolutely relishes watching as it rushes along below his patio deck above. Lit up at night, the falls and the creek have phosphorescent appearances at three different falls locations. As with all well-installed features, such as lighting and waterfalls with pumps, it runs off a timer and stops automatically to preserve power. He also served good wine. ūüėČ

The source:

A different mind set in general accompanies all this increasingly complex designing, now that the monolithic lawn is out of consideration. Suddenly, things like more patio space are entertained. The notion of sculpting the actual land by creating hills and mounds studded with rocks and plants becomes a fascinating alternative, making the entirety of any landscape suddenly more riveting an event. More park-like, less boring, more interesting and livelier by far, suddenly we are actually released to play around a little bit. Art seeps into the equation at about this time and all designers, I bet, can trace the moment of this discovery. It actually gets a bit intimidating, the truth is, because designers become far freer to experiment and to entertain alternatives for the regular folks – instead of just for the wealthy. In fact, it becomes an imperative.

We arrive at features like Bubble Rocks.

We do new things – different things – things like inserting lighting, making vineyards, enlarging patio space and making walking platforms from natural stone – all of which I will show next as we consider what features we deem suitable for a water-conserving regime which retains beauty before all else.

Avante Garde Things – Real, Not Trends

Yes, this is another recycled post from about 3 years ago which I feel good enough to re-post with a couple of additions. Inasmuch as I am officially a “retired landscaper”, we will not be seeing more pictures of myself and friends on the job. ¬†My last one was about 2 years ago, here in Louisville.

For a landscaper, any intensity of interest towards something Avante Garde might seem unusual. But these are the bizarre personal complications our Maker has decided to afflict some of us with. The inspiring nature of art needs to be a part of any grade school and especially junior high school curriculum. Artists hang out way out there in their own whimsy, dedicated beyond the norm to present a weird brand new world of wonder for we admirers to sensually and mentally take in. They perform these works selflessly and most often wordlessly.

Enjoy.

My good fellow blogger Frances the other day lamented the curse of “trends” in gardening, speaking to an irritation I can cop to as well. Here is her rant – fairegarden -and I sincerely implore people to check it out – for the colorful explanations of her angst as well as her usual stunning pictorial abuse of her very own garden. It made me consider the qualities of art and, really, everything – and it also made me consider those things which move me most.

I have a very real fascination with what I consider to be current¬† ‘Avant Garde’ artists. I also like the connoisseurs of those artists who blog, review and attempt to describe their heartfelt relationships with wild ideas. A restless pursuit of new things can be an addiction – at its worst we become unseated from our table, off chasing the current butterfly. At best – and these are the moments we cherish – we discover something new, uplifting and which cracks open a window into another world entirely. The sheer differentness of utilizing normality to express meaningful connections in new and unique ways shows us our own potentials in their amazing variety. It reveals, too, a depth which is so fortunately unfathomable at its highest expression.

Here is Ernst Reijsiger and Mole Sylla last Summer at a workshop in Amsterdam using classical elements of beat, instruments and the rest but putting it into a stew of cross cultural and uniquely human celebration:

Nor does the stark ability of an artist in his or her moments of great achievement mean any less simply because of the era. Our discovery makes it contemporary in all the important ways, be it the Avant Garde qualities of Antonio Gaudi or the painted styling of Hieronymus Bosch. The unattributed photo below illustrates an incredibly stark imprint of time and place on the part of the artist. In its enlarged state, perhaps you too can find why and how I found myself utterly riveted by it.

A partially-excavated Sphinx looms in its unfinished excavated form and quite broken splendor over the relatively tiny bodies of workmen or perhaps passing Bedouins who had used it as a shady rest stop for Centuries. The contrast of modernity – which is the picture itself – mix with the grandness of scale and the breath of living subjects amid the ruinous nature of Time.

Clicking to enlarge this picture reveals far more than the compressed visual here. Indeed, all of these are prone to enlargement, although I have scaled back the monster shots which take up so much bandwidth, to Annette’s relief.

Less than a pursuit of genius – which is another level of inquiry and surprise – I glory in little discoveries of felt presentation which move me in mysterious ways. Needless to say, among the Avant Garde of modernity, architects and builders tend to rule over a region of art and accomplishment like few others – and I include landscape design artists such as Isamu Noguchi who make indescribably evocative and massive sculptures out of land and the products of Earth itself.:

Below is what was a landfill in Sapporo, Japan before Noguchi changed things:

More Personal – My Private Enthusiasms:

An absolute favorite artist of mine is a lady named Helen Nock – website here – who plies at garden furniture construction, sculpture, iron work, roofing tile salvage and who puts together gloriously beautiful and impractical pieces over in merry Olde England and with whom I share yuks on Facebook. Her overall body of work is absolutely and utterly unique:

Michael Eckerman of Santa Cruz, California is an artist in stone Рamong other mediums Рwebsite here Рwho constructs structural landscape elements using a bizarre variety of forms and materials. In the case of this landscape retaining wall, hard by a driveway, his love of surfing and the ocean display an uncanny sense of motion and force. Nor is this the only case where Michael works with nature to provide breathtaking works of landscape and interior home art.  His work has to be seen to be believed:

In closing, I can hardly think of a more interesting sampler of sound and depth than Joe Zawinul and his usual collections of the best musicians on the planet: