Visiting the Portland Japanese Garden
By Marty Michaels
, last updated August 8, 2011
With its dry, warm summers and mild, misty winters, the climate is ideal for cultivating the kaleidoscope of rose gardens you see across the city, but it’s another treasure, the Portland Japanese Garden, that many residents and visitors claim as their favorite green space in this eco-crazed city that is, well, all about green spaces. This beauty is reputed to be the finest example of a Japanese garden in North America, although the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, Florida run a close second. That said, don’t miss a visit to this exquisite site when touring the city. The garden is cloistered in west Portland’s Washington Park, near the International Rose Test Garden, making for a great day trip that combines two types of extraordinary gardens. Another highlight of its location is a stellar view of Mount Hood, which bears a striking likeness to Japan’s legendary Mount Fuji.
The Portland Japanese Garden boasts five varying styles of beautifully manicured gardens strewn over 5.5 acres. According to the garden’s Web site, this and other traditional Japanese garden landscapes are indebted to Shinto, Buddhist, and Taoist beliefs, in which “there is always ‘something more’ in these compositions of stone, water, and plants than meets the eye.”
Within the five separate gardens, visitors will find pagodas, pavilions, Zen sand gardens, ponds, a waterfall, and even an authentic teahouse. And while Japanese gardens are not usually noted for their vibrant floral displays, this one has a remarkable array of flowering trees, shrubs, and plants. It features cherry trees blossom in early spring, azaleas of all hues in mid-spring, and wisteria and Japanese iris in early summer.
You’ll want to allot at least three hours for a leisurely visit of the entire garden. Admission is $9.50 for adults, $7.75 for people age 62 and older, $7.75 for college students with ID, $6.75 for ages 6 to 17, and free for children 5 and under. During the city’s peak season, which is April through October, there are free, thrice-daily guided tours of the gardens. From November to March, tours are conducted once each on Saturday and Sunday. The garden also hosts a classic Japanese tea ceremony in the teahouse on the third Saturday of each month from April to October.
This relaxing, contemplative urban green space is even more tranquil on rainy days, so don’t let Portland’s occasional gray days stop you from a visit, just pack an umbrella and sally forth. There is no restaurant or café on site, although there is a small but excellent shop that carries bonsai and ikebana kits and tools, wind chimes, lanterns, and other garden décor, handbags, jewelry, scarves, teapots and tea accessories. Lastly, note that the garden is a smoke-free environment, and that cell phone use is not allowed in order to maintain a peaceful atmosphere.