Located in Portland, Oregon, the Lan Su Chinese Garden is a 40,000-square-foot enclosed traditional garden in the city's Old Town Chinatown neighborhood. Efforts to build a traditional Chinese garden in Portland date back to the 1980s, with the project gaining significant traction after the city became sister cities with Suzhou, China, in 1988.
A site for the garden was secured in the late 1990s through the work of mayor Vera Katz, with construction beginning in 1999. Architect Kuang Zhen Yan, with the help of 65 artisans from Suzhou, created the garden using 500 tons of rock imported from China, modeling it after the Jiangsu province's famous Ming Dynasty gardens. After 14 months of construction, the $12.8 million garden opened to the public on September 14, 2000.
The garden was originally known as the Portland Classical Chinese Garden. For its 10th anniversary celebration in 2010, the garden's name was changed to Lan Su, representing the union between sister cities, with "Lan" symbolizing Portland and "Su" symbolizing Suzhou. It is also sometimes referred to by its official title, the Garden of Awakening Orchids.
Lan Su's garden collection reflects the diversity of China's native plant life, a country home to more than one-eighth of the world's total plant species. The garden strives to serve as both an urban oasis and an educational resource, showing visitors a microcosm of the country's flora and highlighting its traditional customs related to nature.
The majority of the garden's plants are species indigenous to China, but as the result of import bans, most plants were grown in Oregon, although some were collected via expeditions to the Chinese countryside. More than 400 species of plants are found in the garden, including more than 50 specimen trees and a number of rare shrubs. Curated collections of peonies, rhododendron, magnolia, camellia, osmanthus, and bamboo plants cover the park's landscape.
The park's main buildings serve to recreate a traditional private Chinese residence, structured around an artificial lake as its centerpiece. The main house building contains a Hall of Brocade Clouds, which features intricately carved ginkgo panels, a traditional Ming Dynasty-style Terrace, and a Courtyard of Tranquility. The two-story Tower of Cosmic Reflections represents a traditional lóu, which is a gathering place for the women of Chinese households, and serves as the park's teahouse. At the 50-seat space run by Portland-based tea company The Tao of Tea, guests may enjoy presentations of seasonal selections of Chinese teas, along with light traditional fare offerings, with admission to the park. Nearby, a xuan, or Scholar's Study hall, is a recreation of a traditional Chinese men's study for reading, writing, and practicing the Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar, complete with a Scholar's Courtyard outside providing a space for quiet reflection. Reflections in Clear Ripples replicates a traditional lounge house, where families would gather for games and music.
Several pavilions on the grounds honor the sister city relationship between Suzhou and Portland, including the Flowers Bathing in Spring Rain pavilion, which features six gingko panels with writing by poet Wen Zhengming, and the traditional boat-shaped Painted Boat in Misty Rain pavilion, which represents the friendship boat that traveled the Pacific as part of Suzhou and Portland's sister city relationship. Other pavilions on the grounds include a Moon Locking Pavilion, which allows visitors to enjoy spectacular reflected views of the moon on the garden's lake, and a Knowing the Fish Pavilion, which plays on a familiar proverb of a conversation between two philosophers. Traditional bridges, walkways, and pathways connect the park's buildings and pavilions.
The main house's entry courtyard is also home to the Garden Shop, which is accessible without admission to the park.
Ongoing Programs and Education
As part of Lan Su's educational mission, the garden has partnered with over 50 community organizations to present programming related to numerous aspects of Chinese culture, earning it a reputation as a major cultural community center for the Portland Metro area. Demonstrations of traditional Chinese arts are presented on site daily, including calligraphy, seal carving, and silk painting, and musical performers from the Wisdom Arts Academy appear regularly at the teahouse. Visitors of all skill levels may participate in instructor-led tai chi, ba gua zhang, and other martial and meditation arts lessons. Lessons are also provided for traditional Chinese games such as mahjong and wei chi. In addition to general docent-led tours, weekly plant walks with trained horticulturists focus on the plant life found at the garden and the native flora of China.
An annual summer music series, Jazz in the Garden, is presented in conjunction with PDX Jazz. Six concerts are held on Tuesday evenings in July and August, showcasing local, national, and international jazz musicians.
239 NW Everett St, Portland, OR 97209, Phone: 503-228-8131