Sunday, April 15, 2018

Portland: Lan Su Chinese Garden

"It’s 16th century China, and you’re standing in the entry courtyard of the private home and garden of a wealthy family. The garden around you is their spiritual utopia, a peaceful and soothing place designed to help them escape the problems of everyday life and discover their true selves by connecting with nature." This description you'll find at the website of the Lan Su Garden in Portland, Oregon. And a very similar description you'll hear when you take a guided tour (free with your tickets to the garden). I've only visited this magical place twice, once in the middle of Winter when the persimmon tree was covered with bright "lanterns" - its fruit. And another time just two weeks ago, in early Spring, when magnolia, camellia and many other trees and bushes, the names of which I don't even know, offered their splendid blooms.

The garden occupies the whole city block, about 40,000 square feet, with the Lake Zither at 8,000 square feet in the middle. It is surrounded with white walls, which provide the ever-changing play of light and shadow (granted, only possible on a sunny day). But they are not solid walls at that - looking through 51 windows (each unique!), you can see other areas of the garden.

The Garden was created in the style of a traditional scholar's gardens of Suzhou (China), Portland's sister city, in 2000. All the material was shipped from China, including 500 tons of rock. The rock that you see on the photo below is from the Lake Tai, and it's known as Gongshi or Chinese scholar's rock. Since the Tang dynasty, four qualities were being considered valuable for rocks: thinness, openness, perforation and wrinkling. These rocks were also sometimes called "cloud rocks" for their shape and the sense of airiness.

The details in the garden are incredible and almost countless, each with its own deep meaning. Listening to our knowledgeable guide, I thought about just how much we don't know and will never know - how many life mysteries are hidden from our eyes. I loved learning the 5 elements contained in a scholar's garden - now, let me see whether I can remember them all right ... earth, rock, water, poetry and light. 

65 artisans built this beautiful place - without a single nail! - from wood and stone shipped from China. This mesmerizing stone floor was made one little rock at a time, and our guide mentioned that she saw the process that took place 18 years ago. She also said, we could try to recreate something like it in our yard too by simply setting stones into sand, following a certain pattern. On a warmer day, it provides a nice foot massage if you walk in shoes with thin soles, or maybe even barefoot.

I love both, knowing and not knowing. I enjoyed listening to our guide who seemed to know so much about Chinese culture and history; and at the same time I loved just walking in this peaceful place, observing the beauty and simply being in the moment. In my first visit 5 years ago - I didn't know what to expect! - the place seemed a beautiful dream, the most magnificent, almost fantastic garden that I'd ever seen. Now when I look back at these photos taken just a couple of weeks ago, the very existence of such a magnificent and serene exotic garden in the middle of the everyday life of a busy city, seems almost impossible. It is indeed a utopia - but of all the things in the world, a utopia is exactly my cup of tea.

For a day in a garden, I chose to wear my other plaid skirt (or pinafore dress if you will), the vacation sweater and thrifted shirt in cheerful Spring colors and patterns.

What about you - are you ready for a little bit of utopia?

Photos by Justin and myself.

Linking with Visible Monday.

* * *


  1. What a delightful post to kick off the week! I love this Chinese garden, I can almost feel the tranquility though your photos. I'm excited that our magnolias are almost ready to burst forth like those lovely pink ones you've captured, too.
    I love your outfit and the photo of you and Justin. xxx

  2. more then all!
    just working on my own little utopia :-D
    the pic of the happily grinning natasha at the side of justin says it all!!! love that! <3 <3 <3
    i learned a bit about chinese gardens via books - it´s a very fascinating concept - but high maintenance - it needs some full-time gardeners to keep the charm of this beautiful garden pictures upright..... so i just take the genius ideas of designed views and balanced proportions for my own gardening - aka designing my own utopia ;-D
    cozy, comfy yet chic & cool outfit! love the suspenders on that skirt!!
    huge hugses - with earthy hands! xxxxx

  3. Gardens are my utopia too. Chinese gardens are always a joy to visit ans this one looks wonderful, so tranquil and Spring a perfect time for a visit. I do love the photo of you and Justin, you both look so happy. Your skirt and fun top just the thing for such a great day.xx

  4. Oh yes I am ready for Utopia :)
    Wonderful pictures from a stunning garden. I love the roofs so much :)
    You look amazing in your travel jumper Natalia :)
    Huge hug, Tina

  5. What a magnificent place! I love Asian gardens. I think that the Asians have a great sense of balance in their work. I love their aesthetic, especially when it comes to garden and house design. Their traditional art and culture always take my breath away. This Chinese garden is utterly beautiful. How amazing they shipped all the rocks from China! It must have taken them a long time to create all of this, but the effort was clearly worth it.

    That stone pathway really caught my eye. The tour guide is right, we can all try to make something similar in our garden. All it takes is some stones and a bit of patience. Btw this is how we still make pathways in Dalmatia, with stone! Not always, but often enough. If all goes well, I might go to visit my grandmother this week and I can send you some photographs of my grandmother's stone design & garden creations. She still tends to the gardens, no matter her age.

    I'm always ready for Utopia. We need beauty to stay sane in this crazy world. Creating an oasis of beauty is something to be applauded. This garden does look magical and I'm sure it feels that way too. Thank you for sharing. I think this Chinese garden is a must see for someone who visits Portland.

    You look lovely. Such a cute outfit! I really like your plaid skirt. The vacation sweater is such a great pairing with it.

  6. Spiritual utopia indeed! How lush and spectacular are these gardens and the architecture surrounding you?
    You and Justin look so peaceful and happy in this exotic spot. You seem miles away.
    I absolutely love what you are wearing. That is certainly no surprise. That plaid pinafore dress is so great with the embroidered sweater and fabulous printed blouse. The unexpected rendered beautifully.

  7. What a fascinating garden, Natalia! I can almost feel the tranquility. There's a perfect balance between the planting and the architecture. I'm loving the idea of those windows, and the stone floor is a true work of art. Your outfit is perfect too, the plaid pinafore skirt/dress works amazingly well with your travel jumper and I love how the collar of your springlike blouse is peeking out. You're looking happy and relaxed! Lots of love xxx

  8. This was so incredible!!!! I love your post and I'd love to visit this garden.

  9. what a fantastic garden, its quiet beauty and serenity can be felt in every picture! and what a pleasant thing it would be to walk in this garden!
    I love your pinafore and jumper ensemble, you look gorgeous, comfy and stylish! your blouse adds a touch of color and looks so cute!

  10. I love that "poetry" is an element!
    Your ensemble is quirky and cute...just my cup of tea.
    Love the photo of you and Justin. And of course th gardens!!
    xo Jazzy Jack