Portland’s Lan Su garden

Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland.

In Old Town Portland, Chinatown has lost most of its character from bygone days. Its in the oldest part of the city of Portland. After multiple attempts to revitalize this area and emphasize the Chinatown aspect, it remains small and quiet. However, there is one vibrant and much-visited place: Lan Su Chinese Garden.

This is my last post on stuff Will and I did together. We had two weeks to enjoy the Pacific Northwest and now he’s far away in Rhode Island again.

The name Lan Su is formed by combining the name of two sister cities:  Portland and Suzhou, China. Suzhou is famous for its gardens, and Lan Su was built by Chinese artisans from Suzhou and is one the most authentic Chinese gardens outside of China. But of course, care was taken to choose words that have another meaning, and “lan” means orchid, and “su” is arise, or awaken.

Admission is $10.95 with discounts for students and seniors. A ticket gets you into any event happening in the garden for the entire day, to include guided tours and cultural events. There are classes to teach Chinese games, live music in the teahouse, calligraphy and poetry demonstrations and classes.

All of this is in the center of a bustling city that somehow you forget while you’re inside. The design is so well done that from inside the garden you can hardly see the buildings outside, and you honestly cannot hear much of the street noise.

Skyscrapers are barely noticed from inside the garden. Instead, I noticed the architecture inside, the variety of plants, and the peacefulness of the setting.

I carried a laminated flower guide with me into the garden, that was provided as we entered. I thought with the early season that I would be lucky to find any of the blossoms. To my surprize and delight, I found almost every single blossom in the brochure. It was like a game to find them all, and the added bonus was a reminder that Spring is really on its way. Lan Su also provides plant-specific tours for both home gardeners and professionals in the fields of horticulture and botany.

Blossoms were small, and few, but unmistakably all over the garden.

This garden was created with an extraordinary attention to detail, with symbolism tucked into every viewing angle, and poetry all around. If you wanted to zip through in 15 minutes and get a good look, it would be easy, as the place occupies a single city block. However, if you wanted to spend your entire afternoon there, followed by evening tea, that would also be reasonable, as the longer you gaze out across the waters, or through the branches, the more you see.

Symbolic fish, peaches, and bats adorn the top of one building.
Weak spring sunlight highlights early buds.

For many more photos, from a trip to the garden in 2015, please see my other Lan Su blog post.

7 thoughts on “Portland’s Lan Su garden

  1. It’s one of my daughter’s favorite gardens. I think that is where I first smelled the Daphne flowers. Mine have never bloomed or grown like theirs but we had a great time there and took tea as well. Who knew the treasure inside the city.

  2. I’ll put it on my itinerary next time I visit Portland, Crystal! There was a similar temple at Burning Man, put up by folks from Formosa. It was quite beautiful and included dragons on top. In Burning Man tradition, it was burned at the end of the week. –Curt

      1. Cathartic: I think you are right, Crystal. The Man certainly incorporates the concept of the Phoenix rising out of the ashes. The is also a significant message of impermanence and letting go. –Curt

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