The Lan Su Garden (formerly the Classical Chinese Garden) sits in an unprepossessing part of Portland, old Chinatown which is also home to various musical and night life venues and soup kitchens. The area may or may not get itself gentrified. But the Garden is the kind of gem that in, say, a European city would have tourists taking photos by the thousands. Oddly, I didn’t realize this about the Lan Su until I saw a set of my own photos, taken in pursuit of an art project which was entirely removed from the notion of the photo tour by an enthralled tourist.
The Lan Su Garden fills one city block, about 40,000 square feet. It is surrounded by an impeccably painted wall, with small openings, through which bits and pieces of the garden can be viewed.
Although the Garden is rightfully proud of its plants, particularly the lotus and water lilies in the central pond, the metal and wooden details and its architecture are what fascinate me.
Lan Su is result of a collaboration between the cities of Portland and Suzhou, Portland’s sister city in China’s Jiangsu province which is famous for its beautiful Ming Dynasty gardens.
The garden was designed by Kuang Zhen Yan and built by 65 artisans (craftsmen who spoke no English, but who resided in Portland for months) from Suzhou on donated land. According to Wikipedia, 500 tons of rock, including Chinese scholar’s rocks from Lake Tai, were brought from China and used in the garden. The garden’s grand opening was on September 14, 2000.
The central lake has had a few problems: in addition to its liner leaking, eagles (or maybe herons, depending on whom you are talking to) ate the koi. Three visitors fell into it. Apparently most of these problems have been resolved, by deepening and relining the pond and crossing fingers about visitors.
The garden’s name represents the relationship of Portland and Suzhou, whose names are combined to form Lan Su. “Lan” (蘭) is also the Chinese word for “Orchid” and “Su” (蘇) is the word for “Arise” or “Awaken,” so the garden’s name can also be interpreted poetically as “Garden of Awakening Orchids.” (蘭蘇園) (Lan Su Garden Website)
What I was doing was looking at patterns that both frame and hinder views of interiors or foliage or other windows and doors with their own patterns. I found them. Many of them.
[While it may seem absurd that an American city should brag of its Chinese garden, such collaboration or insertion of other cultures into the great cities of world is not surprising. For example, the moors in Spain were as much outsiders as the Chinese in Portland: the Garden is in Portland’s modest Chinatown, which has its own dragon gates guarding it at Burnside. As a west coast city, Portland has benefited from its place on the Pacific Rim.]