Lan Su Chinese Garden

The tea house
The Tower of Cosmic Reflection tea house

Right in the middle of Chinatown (but of course), Portland boasts the lovely Lan Su Chinese Garden. There is bounty for the senses in this carefully arranged space. Occupying the land of one city block, it doesn’t look like much from the outside, and that makes the experience even more remarkable when you step inside.

This is a view of the gardens from the street outside.
This is a view of the gardens from the street outside.
This authentic Chinese garden is so well designed that it is restorative simply to be there.
This authentic Chinese garden is so well designed that it is restorative simply to be there.
A boat rests in a clump of vegetation, and shelters fish in its shadows.
A boat rests in a clump of vegetation, and shelters fish in its shadows.

Portland’s sister city is Suzhou, famous for its gardens. Sounds from the word Portland and Suzhou were taken to form the name Lan (orchid) Su (arise/awaken), so the name of the garden can be poetically interpreted as Garden of Awakening Orchids. It was completed in 2000 by professional artisans from Suzhou in only 10 months, using materials that came primarily from China (including all that rock – wow!).

It’s surprising how much of the city outside disappears once inside the garden.

From the scholar's courtyard I could see camellias and tall buildings.
From the scholar’s courtyard I could see camellias and tall buildings.
The drip tiles display five bats representing the five blessings of long life, fortune, health, a love of virtue, and a painless passing.
The drip tiles display five bats representing the five blessings of long life, fortune, health, a love of virtue, and a painless passing.

We arrived just as a tour was beginning, so we followed the group on stone-paved paths beneath covered walkways  and through courtyards and buildings. When the tour was over we continued to wander wherever our fancy took us.

After some time the sky darkened and the rain fell harder, and we stepped into the tea house. We were able to select from a large menu of teas which was brought to us in a tea service. After we were shown how to properly use the tea service, we were left to enjoy it. Tara ordered a moon cake, and we shared that. The sweetened bean paste reminded me of the bean paste desserts I had in Japan.

The inscription above the moon door reads "Listen to the Fragrance," encouraging us to use our senses in new ways.
The inscription above the moon door reads “Listen to the Fragrance,” encouraging us to use our senses in new ways.
The stone tiles are particularly remarkable throughout the garden. The pattern changes to suit each section.
The stone tiles are particularly remarkable throughout the garden. The pattern changes to suit each section.
Tara practiced calligraphy with water on a stone.
Tara practiced calligraphy with water on a stone.
A skyscraper towers above the Hall of Brocade Clouds.
A skyscraper towers above the Hall of Brocade Clouds.
Sunbeam casts winter shadows.
Sunbeam casts winter shadows.
Attention to detail is rich in every part of the garden, including the insides of the buildings, constructed to represent the types of structures found in the actual garden of a wealthy family.
Attention to detail is rich in every part of the garden, including the insides of the buildings, constructed to represent the types of structures found in the actual garden of a wealthy family.
Our tea service.
Our tea service.
This musician played for everyone in the tea house.
This musician played for everyone in the tea house.

It was a good way to share the day with with my child, and I’m so glad I have a teenager who was actually excited to come here and couldn’t wait to eat a bean cake. Tara is so very different than who I was at age 17, and I am in awe of that wonderful person.

Tara poses with the lion at the entrance to the garden.
Tara poses with the lion at the entrance to the garden.

17 thoughts on “Lan Su Chinese Garden

  1. Oh dear!!!! it’s fantastic… I never thought that a Chinese garden could be in Oregon… I`m very keen about Orient, in special China. I was there in 2005 and in other oriental countries. Suzhou is a wonderful city near Shanghai. Have you been there? I read you were in Japan, me too five years ago. I love doing pps. and I have some from that countries if you want to see them, send me your mail and I can send the pps.
    You are luky to have a nice girl!!!!!!! My regards,

    1. I am pretty sure I have not seen the Japanese garden in San Francisco – at least not for many years. I’ll bet it’s lovely. Portland also has a Japanese garden. Yes, I agree with you – so nice to be able to bring Tara along with me.

  2. My goodness. I thought I was already following you and noticed I wasn’t. My daughter and I were there last summer I think. My photos were not as nice as yours. Love them. We enjoyed the gardens as well.

  3. Interesting that another blogger brought up Suzhou. We were there and we thought these pics were taken there. Do you know why no two of designs in those windows are alike? because each allows you to view the scene from a different perspective. enjoyed post, xo LMA

    1. Oh, that’s a great piece of extra information. Thank you so much for telling me about the windows. I did notice that they were all different, but did not know why. I think it’s a compliment to the builders that you thought these photos were from Suzhou. And you were able to travel to Suzhou! That must have been a wonderful trip.

      The garden is truly remarkable, even in the middle of January. I have not yet visited in Spring, but I feel like it would be especially nice then.

    1. Sreejith thank you for your comment. It is an amazing place. I have now been there three times, and the visit is always too short. I think I could stay there all day long. Our guide this time talked about a special evening event open to members only, and the whole garden was lit with paper lanterns and candles in lotus flowers on the lake. I can only imagine…

      1. That’s immediately what I thought! I was drooling with envy. If they would only let me attend. I promise I wouldn’t touch any of the food or drink if they would let me sit quietly beside the lake and take night time photos. ahhhhh….

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