I reviewed these posts and realized how much more there is to say about the place and its construction. There were so many fascinating aspects to it all. I often refer in this blog to John Stone and I even have his website mentioned often in this blog. Working as closely with him as I did acquainted me with his various tasks during the initial and then middle phases of the project. As mentioned, I relocated to Reno, Nevada at about the halfway mark of the construction but I still got some interesting updates and conclusions from John, telephonic ally.
Among the most interesting facets of the project involved the researching and the discovery of appropriate plants for the project. What this involves is nothing short of weird and not the standard mode of acquiring plant materials at all. With a tight budget, mixed with the stated desire to have mature plantings gracing the project, some creativity was required. Thus, many days were spent with John and the Chinese engineers and Project Supervisor, a female, tramping out into the wilds of nurseries’ “back 40′s”, looking for previously-ignored trees and plants. It actually paid off handsomely, now and then, with these surprisingly gorgeous trees once considered ‘unsellable’, and virtually ignored, suddenly becoming something more. Talks went on, sales made, designers pleased as some semblance of possibility and completion reared its head.
As well, we cast an eye to highways and highway landscaping. The Oregon DOT had plants which had nearly outgrown their usefulness and were fascinating in their size and shapes. They gratefully and generously acquiesced in their relocation. Work commenced, excavating these big suckers by hand, as were so very many of the others. John and a raft of willing workers became more than well-versed in the removal and sustaining of these large trees, all of which began to be staged at a lot nearby the new Gardens in a growing lump. We supplied irrigation for them and protected the root balls until the time for planting came.
I always found the process fascinating, myself. I also always figured as far as resourcefulness and opportunity were concerned, I have seen few – if any – projects whose savings and whose resourcefulnesses were so fully utilized. I stand impressed to this very day.
Watching the fellows from Suzhou go at their work was the single most fascinating thing about the entire project. There was one fellow whose job title had to have been “Wood Carver”. He would be up on a ladder, literally carving faces and figurines in wood, after the wood was in place! In other words, carving one time, error-free, right where they would always be. Other aspects included guys hauling large pieces of granite, using those humongous ropes similar to circus workers, to say nothing of the wood mallets which really DID resemble the old circus tools of my youth. The granite had all been carved overseas and was imported here to match up with plans dealing with the buildings, grounds and the bridges. More impressive than I have words for, in short.
The City Of Portland had also arranged for “Cross Cultural” seminars especially-tailored for working with Chinese. These went on for a few days and they even included the group of Chinese who had their own version of training. Having lived in Korea and spending time in Japan had prepared me for what must have been some shocks amongst our locals, although, to be honest, the entire affair seemed to run remarkably smoothly. The competence of the Chinese was unquestionable. Their work ethic was every bit as good as our own and they were consistently chattering and cheery people.
Confession time: I left before the project was completed. I fielded calls from Reno relative to the hopeful sighting of a few wires and pipes which, as mentioned, got somewhat “losted” in all the hubub. I also had to hear secondhand as to how the placement of soil and the planting went on. In a way, it broke my heart and, in another, it was just another landscaping job. Such is our life.
So John had the chain designed for our needs – we needed something that could handle the weight without snapping, obviously. But we also needed something we could uncouple quickly, especially difficult considering the expanse involved: many of the root balls were up to ten feet across! Anyway, this was accomplished well. 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. There was this 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 and those nasty things like boots of the workers, shovels and machinery is why. 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 s 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.
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 it is basically placed smack in the middle of the Chinese District, it has a congruity in the city itself. Leaving the Garden, you can go shop at stores specializing in Chinese items or eat at any number of bordering restaurants.
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.