Portland Oregon Japanese Garden – Final Thoughts

There is a rough simplicity to this Japanese Garden which belies its age. The steps seen below could have been installed centuries ago and they do indeed represent what is often seen in the most authentic Japanese Gardens in Japan. There is this primitive element that makes it that much more entrancing – a combination of complexity, human creativity and an admixture in all the elements as well of utter simplicity. The dialog never ends at a good Japanese Garden.

(all pictures enlarge on clicking)

Lines such as these below show the superiority of clean lines in garden design performing a good head-clearing function. Once again, simplicity vies with heavy thought for the most outstanding feature and neither wins the battle. That they can coexist so intrinsically inside of one design is a sign of perfection – or as close as man can get to it. These two entryways to homes plead with us to relax as we enter. Small in size, they are also universal in scope. Simple messages redound, allowing all of our thoughts some pleasant room and a very human and gentle tolerance.

Some of the minor features here appeal to this landscaper and designer. Something as simple as this rock edge, separating a path from the vegetation are done in a very tight and artistic manner and in a unique way.

Indeed, some of the pathways here are fabulously interesting while maintaining that same sense of simplicity spoken of above. These rocks are varied in size, yet they mesh perfectly in a primitive, yet appealing and very artistic way. They are just rocks but obviously something more.

This mix of human and natural make for a true sort of spiritually-enhancing amble along paths and into vistas that take us from our normal daily existence and insert us into a real sense of history. Of course, they also take us into good old fashioned gardening love. I just like the way the Japanese have done these things and I feel that Portland’s Japanese Garden is truly representative of this ancient art.

Here are some looks at a rather primitive-appearing arbor with a massive Wisteria Vine crawling all over it. It offers a vista much along the Chinese lines of Fung Shui, giving us some goodies through the portal leading elegantly and effortlessly to the next great thing. On closer inspection, I think you can see why I so appreciate the sense of “Ancientness” – for lack of a better term – as we look closer at this arbor:

All in all, the construction of this Garden I feel is a sort of Masterpiece. As the lad at the entry was effusive in reminding me: “This garden was rated the 6th best Japanese Garden in the world!” In my travels to Japan and Vancouver – which also has a very cool Japanese Garden – I have seen more than 6. I know there are hundreds. Such a seeming stretch for relevance turns out to me to be quite a statement for the knowledgeable fan. If it is indeed the 6th best in the world, that is huge. I have no trouble admiring the work and I happen to think it is somewhere a bit beyond “world class”.

This one is plain ‘special’.

Here are the remaining pictures from my camera that day. Too bad I am not there now, because the seasons are just now changing – another creative elemental ‘capture’ made by this gorgeous place which has its highlights for every season.

Here is a wall I really liked, an incidental piece but illustrative, in my opinion, of the craftsmanship applied to the smallest details here:

A pond I omitted earlier:

This bit of wildness within the garden is close to the above small pond. It gives the most naturalistic forest sense,  yet I couldn’t help but feel it was a part of the construction:

Yet another waterfall, towards the wilder area mentioned above:

On the periphery of the garden – a blending of human and Nature as the garden gives way to it.

Another look – back – at the human elements. A gorgeous still pond:

I really, really loved this lantern:

And this one too. Imagine their being lit for passage at night.

Pretty hard not to like these: (more random pictures)

My personal favorites!  Thanks, for visiting!

Portland, Oregon Japanese Garden – The Man Made Parts

This is a trip through a less naturalistic and more man-made aspect of the Japanese Garden. That is not to say there is no Naturalism. Far from it. It is always that interplay, in fact, that seems to be evoked in any Japanese Garden and it is the gift they supply us as we walk through them.

The trip around the Japanese Garden is a marvel of tightly-controlled randomness, a weird sort of dialectic speaking of the tension of Nature and man coexisting in a common theme – the enhancement of each. Man shows Nature off here. We see the incredible beauty of the Koi, colorful, gorgeous and sinewy, swimming lazily in still water ponds.

We look at the pruned wonder of a Japanese Black Pine tree, its branching looking wild and anarchistic, yet controlled somehow all the same, driven by man’s hand to display features which we once just potentials, now gorgeous like some work of art.

The natural wonders of the plants and animals all arranged in successive steps unfolding in front of us then yields to those constructions which are even more challenging to the eye: the strictly man made constructions.

There are two exceptional garden pieces composed of white granite bits – resembling sand almost, or even water – which pose this stunning sort of stark foreground for a very limited display of natural products. The top picture shows the upright “Shibumi” rock, arresting in its solitude and quite interesting as a natural shape. Its naturalness is sort of undone by its obvious human placement but its antiquity and timelessness represents the natural world without further explanation. The chances are great the rock is a billion years old. Its preciousness is secured by its loneliness as the sole representative of Time itself. The smaller rocks arranged around it represent a nearly social grouping, separated by the raked surface which most represents water, ironically, and the shimmering effects always revealed when touched no matter how lightly. The minimalism of these characteristics speaks unheard volumes in explaining the ripples of Time and Cause and Effect, connected as they are by a human rake and shovel. It proves that tension is evocative.

The garden below is a personal favorite part of the Garden.This one has a different purpose from the tight, tense placidity of the ones above. This one’s purpose is similar in that the foreground of the white granite pebbles gives an almost liquid serenity. The sole raked beam, coursing through it in a curving and sensuous manner gives us that hint of humanity and the grace of artistic human forms, but it does not intrude on the clarity of the vista the entire complex gives. Here we have the openness of a clearing where the distance seems farther than it is. The optical illusion is effective. It is as if the forces aggregated across the still surface pile up in their diversity, and form a nice crowd of potential friends and enemies.

The plants around this garden actually hide it well, which adds to the sense of solitude and discovery when one encounters it. I mean, it’s a huge area.  But who knew??  I absolutely love that idea, as well as the rest of it. It seems we are offered solitude at almost every turn in this delightful garden.

Meanwhile, other man made articles pop out at us from surprising spots as we walk. The Japanese and Chinese both love etching their comments on gorgeous natural stones, arranging them in artistic and very appealing ways.

The commentary is typically minimalistic and in poetics, describing the wonder and mystery of all things. Meanwhile, other rocks are placed simply and starkly, features of their own, giving us a glimpse at the unchanging character of Nature and her Timelessness. They stick out like small explanation points, highlighting Nature’s beauty of form and the randomness of beauty itself, if only we have the ability to see it.

This Garden is so representative of the Japanese Art of Gardening it is actually somewhat astounding in its purity. This was the first of many trips for me to this gorgeous spot. It will definitely be a highlight for visiting friends and family, much the same as the Portland Chinese Garden where I actually played an active role in its construction, as seen and explained in this blog elsewhere.

Nor am I done. Next, I will address yet more man-made aspects of the garden, this time taking a look at the sculptures and artwork, including the constructions of the garden gates and arbors.

Portland, Oregon Japanese Garden – Plants and Trees

You will have to prepare for some semi-literate ranting in this post. I do not claim to be an accomplished writer. I am neither trained for it nor gifted at it. But, having said that, this Japanese Garden has unleashed the author in me – the wordsmith, looking for just the appropriate phrase to somehow represent what I see in the sheer tension and pleasure in this garden’s little wonders.

The subtle care lavished on this huge shrub – intense though it is – presents a weird combination of repose and tension as we appreciate the sheer amount of work and detail put into these tiniest of natural matters. The interplay of light amid the branches with all the supple and robust branching patterns remind us of an immaculately groomed royal personage, perhaps Medieval, en route to some ceremony of real importance. The Japanese talk to us through their landscaping, reminding us that such values as cooperating with Nature reward us in ways we never knew before we encounter them anew, freshly-delivered for our now-new observation. Refreshed therefore, we are able to assess the next wonder, like a taste of ginger to refresh the taste buds.

The needles on this Japanese Black Pine resemble background puffs of cloud or smoke, nearly secondary to the dark bark of its branches and the basic and unruly passionate forms Nature, once again, has given to us  as options. The tree therefore becomes a palette for the artist, yet another cooperative venture between man and nature. There is a controlled wildness to the effect, if such a thing seems even possible. For me, it embodies study and repose, a stunning adjustment which never gets old owing to the timelessness of the concept itself and the wildness of Nature’s invariable push towards renewal. There is something essentially poetic about the utter Zen of Japanese Landscape Architecture. Surreal almost, it demands contemplation when you are sat in front of it for any period of time. It “comes to you”, corrosively. And that is a good thing.

The topiary effects of so much of the true Japanese gardening style serves similar purposes. They speak of taming – in the strictest possible ways -in almost apparently cruel manner – the wildness of Nature. But it is also done in service of the garden for human enterprise itself and the plants have proven – much like the dog or horse – to truly not mind so much. The other purpose served is economic, oddly enough. By pruning, we reduce their spatial girth and obstructive size so that these plants allow us to see more. It’s really fairly simple. Nor do we need to acquire others when these get too darn big.

The other effect achieved is strictly artistic. Those shapes provide yet another form – and yet another feast – for the eye. They can be trained to develop along predictable and satisfying lines and, therefore once again return us to the cooperative spirit achieved in these gardens, between man and Nature.

They can return us to primordial forest origins – a trip to an ancient clearing:

Or they can welcome us home to serenity and our own sense of ourselves, our home and our great good fortune in our humaness:

The straight lines and eye-catching geometric’s of Japanese Gardens we get a glimpse of in the above picture. They literally impact modern architecture more than we tend to think. The clean lines and geometric patterns are more than just a pretty face. They nearly always tell a story, full of complexity and depth of thought.

Japanese Gardens are invariably geared to make one contemplative. Unfortunately, they are also geared to making you want to talk about them in a literary style. There are so few other ways in which to speak of them, though. They require attention, detail and a depth. I hope no one minds my rants on the subject. I adore them.

Next time, our final visit to this lovely garden. We will look at the various sculptures there and the amazing gardens of fine white granite. I hope you have enjoyed this little trip.