Water is plentiful and put to good use in the Pacific Northwest!

Dave Brigante

Beautiful Gardens with Water Features
in Portland, Oregon USA

by Dave Brigante
Images as credited - click to enlarge

A visit to the northwestern part of the United States is something that can be an enjoyable life-long memory, whether you are seeing the area for the first time or if you happen to return for many vacations. We are well known here for our rain and very green surroundings, which of course go hand in hand. By not talking about the weather I would be leaving out something that we wetlanders hold near and dear to our hearts and that would be our WATER! We do have lots.  

The huge Columbia River separates the states of Oregon and Washington and the lengthy Willamette River runs right through downtown Portland, making for eight equally unique bridge crossings. Needless to say we do know our water and it only makes sense that beautiful gardens and water features are a natural fit for us.

Crystal Springs
Rhododendron Garden
Bob Johnson Photo 

I have chosen three locally popular gardens to describe what the Portland area is well known for. They are the Portland Classical Chinese Garden, Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden and the Portland Japanese Garden. These are all within easy driving distance from downtown and could essentially be visited in a single day, but taking two to three days would certainly be a much more relaxing experience. As the winter season releases its grasp and begins to move into spring, these three gardens come to life unlike any I have ever seen before. 

The Portland Classical Chinese Garden
Photos courtesy of the Portland Classical Chinese Garden
Gallery of additional images by Dave Brigante

Dave Brigante Photo 
The glimpse into the past and serenity of the Portland Classical Chinese Garden (also called the Garden of Awakening Orchids) opens windows of differing perspectives that pleasantly surprise you as you enter into this truly unique garden. The garden, opened in September of 2000, was primarily constructed by an imported workforce from Portland's Sister City, Suzhou, China. The 60 workers labored for the better part of a year to create this masterpiece.

The full city block garden is located in the Chinatown district of downtown Portland, but it feels as though you have been transported back in time to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644AD) from which it was modeled. In touring the various garden rooms that are presented, you begin to realize that the plant collection is one of a kind. That combined with the unbelievably detailed hardscape features and watery venues keep your senses working overtime.   

The centrally located main body of water is named Zither Lake. This seemingly vast lake appears to be only a head turn away from almost anywhere within the confines of the garden. There are multiple bridges that make for easy viewing of the large hardy waterlily displays and the massive collection of lotus. The calming inlets that are interspersed along the way eventually lead to a rock outcropping dubbed the Rockery Mountains.

Out of this grotto-like setting comes a gushing waterfall that rapidly diminishes in force as it softly tumbles into the lake. Very lovely. When the water gardens are at their peak, the lotus in full bloom and the waterlilies flourishing, it's pretty easy to forget that you are so far away from the origins of this horticultural gem.

To give away too many more of the secrets that this well-nurtured Portland garden has to offer would only deny you the joyful splendor that you will have visiting it on your own. So come enjoy some tea in the Teahouse, aptly named "The Tower of Cosmic Reflection", while overlooking the lake. Do reflect in appreciation of seeing what garden life must have been like so many generations ago.

Gallery of Additional Images
The Portland Classical Chinese Garden Web Site 

Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
Photos by Bob Johnson 
Gallery of additional images by Bob Johnson
With Portland being known as the Rose City for its incredible Rose Garden, the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden would easily come in a close second as a Portland namesake. Just about every garden in all of the homes here has at least one Rhododendron -- most have more. The sight of the Rhododendrons blooming in the springtime brings sheer pleasure to all of us who live here. A visit to the Rhododendron Garden only heightens that feeling.

It all begins in April as the early birds start to bloom in force. This will carry on well into June, so visits to this garden for a good couple of months will always be outstanding. The overall feel of the garden is one of tradition and history considering that it was founded in 1950. The original idea was to have it be a test garden, but it quickly evolved into a public garden.

It is said that there are more than 2,500 different Rhododendrons, azaleas and other assorted trees and shrubs throughout the expanse of this picturesque setting. The name Crystal Springs came about from the springs that naturally flow out of the hillside above the gardens and move through the early era water feature and down into Crystal Springs Lake. The lake divides the garden into two sections. One is a peninsula and the other is an island. There is also a golf course on the other side of the lake providing a beautifully green backdrop. This is the perfect garden for strolling. The largest of the Rhododendrons literally create canopies that you can walk under and garner a greater appreciation of the flower scents, the unusual bark textures, and colors that these very mature specimens have. The water that surrounds the garden is also home to many species of waterfowl that will follow after you looking for their special birdseed that I'm sure has become one of their primary staples. 

The main entry to the garden rapidly winds down by the oldest water feature previously mentioned, giving you an idea of how lush and moist it is around the springs. The moss is so thick that the boulders for the falls are almost hard to define. There is also a series of large flat rocks placed in front of the falls to walk across, turning everyone with a camera that goes by into a professional photographer. 

There are two other exciting water features at the gardens that were built back in the mid-1990s by Eamonn Hughes, our own waterfall building guru here in the northwest and owner of Hughes Water Gardens. He brought his unique abilities for creating natural water features, further enhancing the garden's transformation into one of the premier destinations in the Portland area. 

The first and larger of the two is on your right as you descend into the garden. It is grandiose in scale and flows down in a manner that certainly reminds you of waterfalls that you may have seen while hiking in our own Cascade Mountain Range. This one flows into a still water inlet that is nestled into the back side of the peninsula.
The second feature is on the island. After crossing the craftsman style bridge to the other side you see a very large lake fountain geyser and on the shore is another waterfall gushing out of the hillside. One unusual aspect to this feature is that it has two separate streams that flow side by side. This waterfall, while not being quite as formidable as the other two, still makes you feel like you are far away from any form of hectic city life. 

This is truly a garden for all seasons, even though seeing the Rhododendrons in bloom is its proudest moment. I visited recently and was able to see all the rest of what this garden has to offer with the birds, fall color, water everywhere, and the overall greenery. A must-see garden for any gardener who may pass this way.  

Gallery of Additional Images
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden Web Site 

The Portland Japanese Garden
Photos courtesy of the Portland Japanese Garden
Gallery of additional images by Dave Brigante
The Portland Japanese Garden is a beautiful combination of nature and beauty. Its location, placed in the west hills overlooking the city with a distant view of the magnificent Cascade Range figurehead Mount Hood, can only be described as breathtaking. 
This natural setting surrounded by large Douglas firs and big leaf maples, along with the various sounds of water, create a tranquil feeling that will relieve any tension, especially as you move deeper into this garden experience. The garden, started in the early 1960s encompasses 5.5 acres (2.2 hectares), allowing for five distinct garden styles. This discussion is primarily focused on the areas in the garden that have water flowing through them. 

The sounds of those flowing waters accentuate an omnipresent peacefulness that is felt continually as you meander along. As you enter and head downhill to your right you come upon the "Strolling Pond Garden", with a beautiful "Moon Bridge" overlooking a large still pond that has a very subtle water source that tumbles down stream to what is known as the "Lower Pond". In walking down the pathways you gain a greater appreciation for the incredible attention to detail of pruning techniques, path layouts and overall design methods that have been carried out here for the past 45 years.  

After arriving at the stream's end a zigzag bridge twists and turns through a very large stand of Japanese iris dotted with moisture loving ferns. Next you see a school of long lived Japanese koi frolicking merrily in the calm waters below the bridge, occasionally venturing out into the larger lower pond basin. Here the power of water shows itself in the garden. A 30'-40' (9m-12m) waterfall called "Heavenly Falls" cascades out of a very high hillside appearing as if it had always been there, lending inspiration to the beginnings of the garden. 
Continuing around a south-facing slope you enter the "Natural Garden" area. It is a mixture of unique paving stones, foot bridges and one-of-a-kind trickling water features surrounded by shallow streams that seemingly come from many different natural springs. The traversing pathways leave you longing for the coming views either around the next corner or on the uphill and downhill sides.
This part of the garden is especially soothing in its serenity and soft blend of water and nature. The main elements in all Japanese garden design, stones, water and plants, feel particularly prevalent on this moss laden bank.   

The waterways of this garden are wide and varied as is the garden as a whole. With many of the authentic Japanese structures and accents sprinkled throughout, it is a garden that must make Portland's Sister City visitors from Sapporo, Japan, very proud. Please consider allowing yourself some extra time to breathe in the beauty and listen to the pulse that makes this garden flow -- water. 

Gallery of Additional Images
The Portland Japanese Garden Web Site

Portland Classical Chinese Garden Gallery
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden Gallery
Portland Japanese Garden Gallery

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