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07 May 2017 @ 12:48 pm
Another Asian Garden in Oregon  
Place: Japanese Garden, Portland, Oregon
Date: April 30, 2017
Weather: Partly cloudy
Click through to Flickr for larger versions of the photos.

It was very interesting to visit a Chinese and a Japanese garden on the same day. I couldn't help but compare them. Unfortunately the Japanese garden couldn't hold a candle to the Chinese garden.

Both had a bonsai display, as you'd expect. The specimens in the Japanese garden were definitely more impressive. Like this flowering apple tree, for instance. The bonsais were off in a corner of a large plaza by the entrance to the garden. You can see the plaza in the background of this photo.
Flowering apple bonsai.

The grove of maple bonsais below was charming, too.

In the background of this photo, you can see the way the bonsai area had been separated from the larger plaza. There's a low wall with a see-through trellis and some low shrubs on the other side of the trellis. The Chinese and Japanese gardens both try to control the visitor's view. In my opinion, the Chinese garden was much more succesful at it. At 9 acres, the Japanese garden is a magnitude larger than the Chinese. There's a corresponding increase in difficulty in designing it. It was a bit disappointing that the Japanese designers haven't entirely met that challenge.

See the photo below, for instance. I used the portrait setting on my phone to blur the background, but it still attracts attention away from the bonsai. It's the same with the lovely flowering bonsai above. Not only did I blur the background, I also made the photo black-and-white to prevent the background from grabbing the viewer's attention. In the Chinese garden, background treatments were kept extremely simple, often consisting of just one material, e.g a white-washed wall. That allowed the specimens to shine much more than in the Japanese garden. It feels a bit unkind to say it, but a garden is about the whole experience, not just individual specimens. As lovely as they may be.
Bonsai maple grove.

I'm trying not to diss the Japanese garden, but here you see another reason why I preferred the Chinese garden. These garishly-colored pink azaleas were dotted throughout the Japanese gardens. If they hadn't been in flower, the scene below would have breathed tranquility. The focus would have been on the stone light and the interesting texture of the bamboo gate. It would have been a subtle photo.
Tea house garden gate.

This is much better. Fortunately the azalea on the left hasn't started flowering yet, so it doesn't steal the show from the simple, mossy stone bowl and the water.

To avoid the cluttered scenes, I took a lot of closely-focused photos. Like this one, of a lovely Magnolia stellata flower.
Magnolia stellata

The tall conifers work really well in the Japanese garden. They give it protection from above, in a way that's missing from the Chinese garden. With 9 acres, there's room to spare for giant trees.
Baby pagoda.
This is the Sand and Stone Garden. We might think of it as a Zen garden, but the proper term is karesansui, which means "dry landscape." It's meant for contemplation and is often found near the abbot's house in Buddhist monasteries in Japan. Because of the simplicity of materials, this is one of the better areas of the garden. Although I think I would prefer if the walls were a little taller and if the foundation wasn't visible. That would have made it easier to appreciate the artful raking and careful placement of rocks.
Contemplative garden.

I'm wondering if the GJ monogram on the coping was the previous logo of the garden. This part of the garden was designed in the 60s. Particularly the shape of the letter g looks like it could be from that time. If the garden as a whole had been as restrained as the Chinese garden, this little detail would have been charming. It's an interesting juxtaposition of a traditional Japanese stone lantern and the very Western lettering.
Wall coping detail.

Another view of the dry landscape garden.
The Japanese Garden is not bad either.
No matter your opinion about the design of the garden, there are some fantastic specimens. If you love Japanese maples, you'll get your fill. These red, hairy new leaves are not to be sneezed at.
Hirsute Japanese maple leaves.

Nearby is the Flat Garden. It's a later development of the Dry Garden. The raking is lovely and the bright green foliage contrasts wonderfully against the dark conifers. Unfortunately the camellias could feature in Crimes Against Horticulture. If you want green boulders, it's much better to pour some concrete and paint it green. The reason the camellias have so few flowers, is the strictly geometrical pruning.
Flat garden.
Here's a camellia that has been allowed to grow naturally. Isn't that better?
Red camellia.

I'm glad that was the last photo I took, because it allowed me to end on a positive note. Maybe it's just that Japanese gardens don't work for me. Hakone Gardens is here in the Bay Area, and it was a disappointment, too. Hakone is supposed to be super authentic. Call it sacrilege, but if Hakone were a Chinese garden of the same quality as Lan Su, I'd easily buy an annual pass.
 Bien dans sa peau: plays in the dirtanais2 on May 12th, 2017 12:07 pm (UTC)
I have so missed you, Apel! You have a gift, an artists eye, that is so rarely found. Your commentary was spot on; your photographs, stunning as usual.
I haven't logged on in a couple years due to time constraints and life events, but this reminder of what I have been missing will be a prod. Dear Apel, you add so much beauty to a world sorely in need of it!
thoughtsbykatthoughtsbykat on June 5th, 2017 11:49 pm (UTC)
Wonderful photos of the Japanese Garden. You have a good eye.
puddlesharkpuddleshark on June 6th, 2017 07:12 am (UTC)
Interesting. But I have to agree that it doesn't compare with the Chinese garden.

There are three Japanese Gardens near where I live, but I'd say only one of them is really successful as a garden - the others are more a collection of traditional Japanese planting, but without the correct spirit.