Portland Chinese Garden – Part 2 of My Winter Visit – Pathways

The Pathways

(click on images to enlarge)

Once inside the Garden, the unfolding commences – it is truly amazing that there are so many little vistas packed inside of what is in reality just a city block’s worth of a Chinese Garden. From the original “wince” at the new price of admission (it went up to $8) and the newer economic realities, it is still fine enough to set reluctance’s aside and to perhaps concentrate even more on what the garden offers. Complex and entertaining from a strictly architectural perspective, what has been built here is quite remarkable by any standards. The purity of concept and design has imported the principles of the classic Chinese Garden virtually intact. Whereas a Japanese Garden informs us within the spaces between events and invites the imagination to struggling heights, the Chinese gardens are better able to assault the senses in tasteful yet plentiful method. There are little “miracles” abounding. Let’s use walkways as an example:

Complex patterns composed of a wide variety of stones are inset with a very specific depth in mind, better able to “massage the feet” during the walk – a humorous but apt statement (and intention!) made by the designer of this Garden in conversation with me during the construction of it. Ironically, the City, in its wisdom, declared a rather large swath of the pathways to be “failures” in terms of building code, requiring them to be destroyed, then replaced. The problem was handicapped access and the 1/4″ depth the small stones were set at – they were deemed “too deep” by their reckonings. They required them reset to 1/8″ deep, so as to allow smoother passage by wheelchairs. Interestingly, while a setback, this was done post-haste with most of the grumbling coming from those of us who watched the men work with our own version of intense respect and admiration. The dudes laying the stones smiled and moved along, unperturbed. Then they asked me for more cigarettes. I was The Man. 😉

Their constant jabbering was a memory of pure pleasure.

The smiles of the workers were my most lingering image of these crews and of the overall Zeitgeist of the entire project. Good-natured to a fault and well aware of their roles and of what they were constructing, they were hard-working and pleasant – true professionals at their extremely unique craft. As you can see from these pathway pictures, they were also very, very good at what they did.

These sinuous ribbons for traffic are like these magical transports, easy to follow and containing their very own integral element of whimsy and delight in and of themselves. The remainder of the garden looks as sleek as a thoroughbred race horse and maybe more interesting. But it is here – at the most very basic level of what propels one around the park – that the intensity of interest serves as a motivating engine for the more whole body and soul experience. When you are walking on Heaven, the rest of it all just falls into place and your expectations rise. Here’s the deal – you never get disappointed.

I adore the detail, myself.

Always surprising, the paths change in pattern without your own attention even considering where it took place. It is some mysteriously-designed process of inserted surprise, tucked away in detail so remote you have to go back to try and locate the pattern transitions. I swear, a pathway fanatic such as myself could spend hours here just inspecting the path itself – no, wait! I did that. For days, during construction, in fact. I did learn something extremely worthwhile, by the way: Yes, you can do this at home. I’m being serious, actually. Granted, while the labor is such that any bids I made for installing something similar were too rich for the clients I plied with the idea, I may have just found the wrong folks to try it out on or possibly chosen the wrong materials. But I can guarantee this: I would do this in a New York Minute for anyone who would pay for this enduring and fascinating surface. Sigh, maybe when I get rich, I’ll do it for myself.

It truly never ends here. It is one constantly absorbing and totally relaxing venture into one of Man’s greatest conceptual achievements, modest yet complex and amazingly abundant. And this post has dealt merely with the walkways!

Next, we’ll visit the buildings and plantings and see what the 33% of the place composed of water itself provides a viewer. Here – below – is a small hint of what a building and it’s cozy and intimate views can provide – and bear in mind, another angle of viewing is just as remarkable, from the same vantage point:

9 thoughts on “Portland Chinese Garden – Part 2 of My Winter Visit – Pathways

  1. Hi Steve — I’ve got “a thing” for paths…love to photograph them AND walk on them. I like the way they can coax the eye into a photo, and of course, like the way they coax one into a garden, such as you have in these beautiful shots. You’ve given me some great ideas — the “mosaic” step stones are gorgeous. I collect and tumble beach and river stones and that would be a very interesting project. 🙂

  2. Oh, my, Nancy, that is EXACTLY what I would love doing. The possibilities are absurdly rich – you could mix colors and textures like these guys did. Really no end of possibilities. And, yes, I am something of a pathway freak myself, lol. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Hi Steve,
    I just love these pathways. I did a very small terrace like this at our old house like this. It is incredible in this scale. Luxury and a kind of rusticity at once. I love the inside tour.
    All the best,

  4. Hi Steve, I was going to go on and read part one, but had to comment first. I would still be there looking at those pathways, never wanting to leave. And to think they had to be redone, you are the man, for sure! I have saved magazine tear outs of similar inlays, on a much smaller scale and dreamed of doing it. Being extremely detail oriented, I could so do this, just needing a little instruction and the right stones, of course. I will come back to this often when in need of inspiration!

  5. Thanks, JulenaJo. You are way too kind.

    Frances, I am easy not only to reach but to talk with about your project. I love that stuff and I have far more time these days. Don’t hesitate to send me a note or reach me here.

  6. Phillip, I bet you did well on your own project. In fact, I should confess I did see what may be the neatest walkway I ever saw in Reno, done by a charming older gal who took the time to embed each stone at the perfect level and who had a most patient hubby who endured every second of it with her. His complaints should be in a book of comedy, lol.

  7. Clearly you’re not the only one who is nuts for those paths! and you can add me to the list: when I visited the Huntington Chinese garden (newly-opened as of last year) I used a lot of my memory card on those incredible inlaid stones. It’s been interesting hearing ideas about how one could do that – though it’d obviously be a long long trail awinding. The paths at the Huntington Gardens are more angular than these seem to be. I enjoyed the musings on garden paths as I have often mused on paths made by people and deer in the woods here: why did they choose that way? When a path gets established, how is it different from the original trail? How is it different when you alter the route for fallen trees and so on? And so on.

  8. Alice, this pathway epidemic is spreading!! I agree, for what it;s worth. Even on the smaller level of residential properties, the truth is that pathways somehow enlarge/expand a property into something closer to a park. There is some severe pride of ownership in some of the folks we recommended or implemented pathways for. And you know, that’s always our biggest compliment.

    This lady is the maven behind TulipsInTheWoods, fast becomiong one of my favorite blogs. Check her out, please.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.