The first garden we visited as part of the 2014 Garden Bloggers’ Fling was Lan Su, located in Portland’s Chinatown. According to its website, Lan Su is the most authentic Chinese garden outside of China. It was created in the style of a Ming Dynasty “Scholar’s Garden” by craftsmen from Portland’s Chinese sister city of Suzhou.
I’m very glad I got to see this garden, but I could not love it. Even so, Lan Su had some wonderful qualities. (A note about the photographs – I took the pictures here because Judy had to miss the first day of the fling, so please excuse any decline in quality.)
Behind its walls, this garden makes the visitor feel removed from the intensely urban area that surrounds it. The design creates a sense of space much larger than the single acre it occupies.
Part of this illusion derives from the framed views that seem to exist in every direction, no matter where in the garden you happen to be. Plus, so many of those views seem to be of distinct but connected spaces. And to visit all the different spaces you can only go by a circuitous route.
All of the plants are native to China, and it was a pleasure to examine the plant palette.
But this garden is really more about water and stone than it is about plants.
Though I loved all the water lilies.
And Lan Su does showcase in many ways how water and stone can be beautiful.
However, if every garden is a compromise between wild and controlled, soft and hard, quiet and drama – for me personally, Lan Su leans too far toward control, hardness, and quiet. We read in Lan Su’s website that this type of garden was intended to bring nature to the city. While any attempt to emulate nature is artificial to a degree, “nature” in this garden seems a little too stylized.
Though perhaps my reaction has to do with the type of landscape being emulated. The gardens I love are inspired by the prairie, while Lan Su seems to be about mountains.
I respect the fact that this reflects a cultural tradition of which I am not a part. And yet, we can only love what we love.
In any case, Lan Su is an intricate garden that needs to be experienced slowly, piece by piece.
There were horticulturists available to talk about the garden, and I wish I had taken more advantage of this resource, but there was so much to absorb just by looking.
The day was getting hot, though it was still morning. The Flingers were getting tired and ready to get on the coach for a ride to the next garden.
What’s your opinion of Chinese gardens?