A Summer Visit To Portland, Oregon – Part 1

I got a huge break in the timing of this event. At the time of my departure from Louisville, the temperature was an unbearably high-90’s phenomenon, complete with a humidity which drove the “feel’s like” temperature (an excellent and appropriate categorization, I must say) to an unlikable 110 degrees or so. Even breathing the air was hot on the lungs. The stillness of the air added a completely intolerable element, lol, particularly for those – such as myself – stupid enough to try working in it.

Ah, blessed Portland. 😉 Rapidly becoming an alternate Urban Universe and my definition of a very ideal habitat for countless reasons (which I aim to address at another time), the city still has some of the greatest-ever hanging baskets spread through town, hanging from lamp posts and the likes – always absurdly full and cascading down in these wild floral masterpieces.

(click any image to enlarge by one or two times)


Old Town, hard by 2nd Avenue and Burnside contains gorgeous 19th Century designs on those few buildings which survived the numerous floods, fires and various and sundry vicissitudes of early Portland.


This is the neighborhood bordering on – or composing – “The Pearl  District”, Portland’s historic Chinatown, and it was my destination this beautiful, fresh early morning. This is where Portland’s now-famous Chinese Garden is located. The Garden has a very special meaning for me inasmuch as I figured somewhat in the installation of the irrigation system which feeds it all.  I was also connected with overseeing some of the gathering of plant materials and liaising with the Union company which did all the foundation work and original excavations. I also spent ample time with the Chinese fella’s themselves who composed the 150 person workforce, sent directly over from Zou Chou for the construction. They did amazing work – much of which was fully fabricated by them in China prior to coming here.

Such as this stunning piece of woodwork which has always simply blown me away:


Which is all to say I went to a few fascinating seminars, worked on the job next to the contractors on every side of the construction and that I also shared my smokes with some pretty cool Chinese craftsmen. Big smokers, these guys.  😉

So I had a chance to watch this edifice from the ground – up and I can assure you, it was totally fascinating. I don’t think I had a bad day. I recall watching the guys using these monstrous 2″ thick hemp ropes, suitable for circus workers, hauling around the very first basic products – chiseled granite – hand-formed into hard rectangles used as walkway borders, bridge spans and even railings as the picture below reveals. Granite was everywhere and formed to make an absolutely  perfect fit where ever it was used. Absolutely everything one sees in this picture below the level of the buildings is granite, topsoil or water. Based on the fundamental solid concrete framing below all the posts and floorings, the entire edifice itself is from Chinese Granite – that is to say, everything visible.


Prior installations of Chinese Gardens by this particular group had taken place twice: In Sydney, Australia just prior to the Olympic Games held there and at the Museum Of Natural History in New York, New York. Since Portland had a Sister City relationship with Zou Chou, I believe it became a natural fit to use these absolute experts for the celebration and admiration of some of the very greatest Chinese contributions to architecture – and more specifically, to Landscape Architecture.

Man, it sure worked. Let’s view some random shots of this precious resource.

Below is a view available to pedestrians outside the garden via a few well-placed windows inside the containing network of walls, engineered to relish a little bit in its own right, and to excite visitors enough to check it out.


A sense of unlimited space and upcoming mystery is what these interesting openings are all about:


Even small windows are engineered to provide a big barrel’s worth of exceeding interest as we gaze at complexity and robust health – the ultimate Feng Shui.


Windows and doors perform vital functions as true “Gateways”, producing and solving mysteries as we sojourn through these artful passages –


Sweet views – magnificent surprises – gently surround us as we suddenly realize how rich a relatively small space can really be.


One third water, one third plants and landscaping and one third buildings of ineffable delicacy the entire place simply redounds with a passion of ultimate competence and plain great sense. Yes, things make sense in this Garden – of course all those small stones should be arranged this way – it’s what the Nature of Beauty is all about, isn’t it? Using natural elements in novel and beguiling ways?


These stone pathways massage a passer-by’s feet. They perform a literal function aside from just sitting there like me – all dressed up – pretty as heck – and no where to go. Truly, the functionality of garden paths in the lore of Chinese Garden Architecture is deeply embedded in the notion of providing pleasure sensually and not merely visually. It’s hard to imagine a deeper regard for the body in simple architectural terms.


They added fish, finally!!

Always a sure winner for me, these little guys ought to find themselves a bit bigger in due time. You have to appreciate their organizing impulses in this cute picture:


I’ll return for another post about this gorgeous place in a day or two. For now, I’ll close with just a couple shots from a larger perspective. The Willows are doing well!:


The “Mountain” looming over the enclosed water fall has filled in magnificently:


The Chinese Garden has most definitely improved with age. My respects are freely given to the stewards of this gorgeous place and certainly as well to those splendid early designers. Everything has gone a bit beyond perfect, marching right on into the Sublime.

Some Nearly Final Words On Boulders

Not all boulders are alike.

The Asian Section

Some even have titles of their own – “Shibumi Rocks” dot Japanese landscapes like these impressive doyens of timelessness who corner the market on Time itself. Many times, these gorgeous billions-of-years-old guys actually are the landscaping. These are the understated attention-getters who supply some peaceful perspective on those who pass and which abide in their Eternal reliability. Unless they fall over, of course. 😉

(click any image to enlarge)


Other ‘rocks’ also fill this bill but in a far more bio-morphic – almost human way. Maybe even more to the point – in somewhat monstrous and unusual ways. The Chinese have perfected the art of placing boulders which are amazingly evocative. These things gather impressions for the more active parts of our imaginations as we get riveted by their near supernatural shapes. They probably most resemble those wild forms in the clouds we so often imagine resemble something we relate to. One can see shapes and guises for all sorts of imagined creatures and things in these amazing stones. That they fit so well into landscapes makes it even weirder somehow. The picture below is a “softened effect” as we see where the balance of plant and rock makes a fine compromise.


Somewhere else inside the Portland Chinese Garden, we get a different take or two. These suckers are plain bizarre:


These incredible stones and their distinctly unusual messages come naturally for them. There are formations which feature these sorts of stones and which occur in Nature there. The Chinese who send for these are the exporters for very specific and limited environments like these gardens which they themselves construct.


I could look at these all day:


But that is China and Japan. In both cases, they are able to work with what they have in their natural geologic environment. I recall, having worked on this garden, the stockpiles of these stones as they arrived and as they were put into storage. I was eager to see how they expected to use them in the garden. I now think their placement was perfect.

Pictures Chinese Garden 029

Through a hole they look sweet – not the first hole, either!:



The North American Section

Over here, we deal with a range of rocks and boulders which are really every bit as diverse, if not quite as weird in the same ways. We do have remarkable Shales and Limestones in the Eastern US which give us innumerable creative outlets. The stratified nature of limestone lends it to stacking and to flat planes. These are particularly impressive when used for water features, as these pictures from the corporate headquarters of Papa John’s Pizza illustrates – one of our favorite local Louisville walks.

Bernheim Spring 011

Stacked, they make wonderful rockeries and informal walls for the surrounding foliage to fill out magnificently:

Bernheim Spring 010

Here is a fabulous example of tasteful placement:

Bernheim Spring 007

I’ve always loved this perspective of the sets of waterfalls at Papa Johns’:

Bernheim Spring 019

Moving towards Jeruselum………………….we encounter another perspective………as the sounds of thousands of gallons of water plummet over rocks and fall……

Bernheim Spring 023

Until we come to that place where we see what the ruccus is all about:

Bernheim Spring 027

It’s way well worth the walk:

Bernheim Spring 029

I’ll have to dedicate an entire post to this place soon.

Meanwhile…………..this guy is trouble with a Capital T:

Bernheim Spring 082

Hopefully, it will be a while until he gets the key to my boat:

Bernheim Spring 064

My brother Tom would be mad:   😉

Bernheim Spring 063

Portland Chinese Garden Part 3 – Other Stuff

It’s hard to believe I posted this nearly 8 years ago. Sigh, lol……Time’s pageantry is motoring along on its own while we celebrate small victories and horrible losses, almost like it doesn’t even care!  😉

Needless to say, this gorgeous Garden has evolved further over time. This garden has been stupendously maintained by very diligent crew from Day One – a position of much regard from this corner. It has become more peaceful, more necessary and more existentially perfect as each year has passed. It is rapidly moving up as a Bucket List sort of destination. The incredible craftsmen, designers and organizers of this gorgeous and serene bit of soulful peacefulness in the middle of a raging and rather wealthy city I am happy to say I knew well enough to have worked side by side during it’s construction. No one gained more than me from all that.

(The images expand – these are among the few remaining gigantic images I have retained in this blog, owing to the hoggish nature of the bandwidth required. A left click on the picture will isolate it – some of them expand yet again by clicking one more time).


I have no idea who she is and I hope she doesn’t mind terribly but her head sure did fit real nice into the hole in that rock. If you enlarge it, you’ll see what I mean. That rock and many others are among many features abounding at Portland’s Chinese garden – a small urban Wonderland of lushness, quiet natural and man made beauty, set right smack downtown in the midst of it all.

Well-maintained and elegant, some phenonomenally gorgeous plantings adorn the garden, from this well-trained Pine to the Weeping Willow behind it whose Spring and Summer look adds dramatic softness – if such a thing can be said – to the ambiance. The building we see in the picture above is “The Boat Shaped Pavilion” or “Painted Boat in Misty Rain” – an altogether appropriate title for a city that gets the Winter rainfall of Portland. I got lucky this day on mid February, catching some good solid sunlight and thoroughly enjoying every second of it.

I was able to get close pictures of some of the things I like best about the garden, especially including this roof line of the “Waterside Pavilion”, with another gorgeous Pine framing it. Because of the protecting nature of the walled Garden and the closeness of the buildings, Palm Trees are allowed some growth inside. They barely eke out an existence – if at all – in Portland, proper, but they make a fabulous and very rich addition to this landscape. In Summer, the Banana Trees also show up, spreading proudly and looking every bit as lush. At this time of year in the garden, they are pretty much just stumps.

Here is yet another look at “The Boat”, featuring more water this time. I will now commence to including more pictures of water, the essential completing element to this Garden, especially inasmuch as it occupies a full one third of the grounds. Prior to this – in my other posts – I stuck to some details, but the pictures to come will illustrate a more total picture of this charming place and the role water plays in it over all.

Here’s where the water “begins”, cascading down this very recessed waterfall and into the large pond below. I love the inset provisions of the falls, especially since I know, as a maker of these sorts of waterfalls and creek, the incredible amount of piercing noise running water can make. By recessing the falls, it serves a couple of functions:

1. It does keep the noise down, protected as it is by those protruding sets of columns on either side.

2. It does not overwhelm in any sense – aural or visual – from the natural peacefulness of the Garden itself.

In itself, it is not particularly striking, although it has its own gorgeousness by virtue of the surrounding rocks. In the picture below, the waterfall is recessed, to the left, barely discernible.

In the next picture, we are standing mere feet away from the falls but toward the other side, Westward. As you can see, there are essentially large columns surrounding the recessed falls, allowing huge gaps or holes to vent some of the sound and fury of the rushing water.

Naturally, the falls serves to purify and aerate the recirculating water nicely, as well as to provide a very legitimate, yet not overwhelming point of interest. It was exceedingly well-designed in my opinion, for the reasons listed. Everything in this garden most definitely works as a whole. While outstanding in its own right, any feature here blends with the others to simply give one an uplifting sense of elegance and congruity. It is organic and full of vibrancy, resonating before you catch your own handfuls of wonder. This is the work of the professional’s professional – and it stands as a virtual teaching aid for the intention and meaning of Feng Shui.

Looking back now at “The Hall Of Brocade Clouds” – the main “meeting hall” – we see the pine once again framing the building and surrounded by water. Another look below at the Hall, some water and seen above the hand-carved granite railings and bridge, constructed in China and sent over for assembly by the artisans who actually made them:

Those granite railings and that bridge lead to pretty much my favorite spot in the Garden, “The Moon-Locking Pavilion”, a wonderfully-named gazebo-like structure set in the middle of the lake and offering a spot to see the moon’s reflection in the water around it. There are always people there when I visit and kids flock to it. Notice as well, we have blooms! The very early Citisus plants are popping open some early yellow. In fact, there was a bold and adventurous Forsythia I somehow missed getting a picture of, dangit, but now that I think of it, I do have a gorgeous Camelia to look at following the Moon-Locking Pavilion. Let’s hurry now.

Camelias! OK, I’ll grant you they are not overwhelming or magnificent on their own. What they DO represent for this Winter-weary soul is the obvious – flowers and the coming Spring.

A closer look a desperate man can love:

So, I was excited about the whole darn thing, you betcha. After all, I helped make the place. It is quite an event any time I go, reminiscing about small items of construction, seeing the development of plants, and sometimes answering questions because people are curious about small items of interest. Once engaged, people tend to hang on a while, asking a few more and enduring my own distinct loquaciousness which plagues me owing to my love of people. It’s a true fault. 😉

As the American Indians liked to say: “It was a good day.”

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: