Lan Su Chinese Garden, Oregon

Entrance to the garden

The sights of downtown Portland didn’t impress us and the damped weather hanging above us, and the experiences we had added to the uneasiness we felt for the city. We went through the Chinatown gate and walked a couple of blocks. Before returning the parking me and my sisters decided to make one more stop and that was the Lan Su Chinese Garden.

Magen paid for me and Deelow and we went inside through the Courtyard of Tranquility. They also gave us a brochure of the garden with information and map of the park. It was designed like an invitation. As we begin our walk to the garden here is a brief history of this Chinatown landmark.

“In the early 1980s an effort was started to build a Chinese garden in Portland, and in 1988 Suzhou and Portland became sister cities. Portland mayor Vera Katz continued those efforts in the 1990s and assisted in the non-profit group that operates the garden in finding a site for a garden. 

The garden was designed by Kuang Zhen and built by 65 artisans from Suzhou on land donated by NW Natural on a 99-year lease; groundbreaking occurred in July 1999, and construction was completed 14 months later at a cost of about $12.8 million. 500 tons of rock, including Chinese scholar’s rocks from Lake Tai (Taihu stone), was brought from China and used in the garden. The garden’s grand opening was on September 14, 2000. The construction of the central lake has created problems at times, such as leakage and one case of three visitors fallen into it.

Courtyard of Tranquility

In 2010, to mark the 10-year anniversary of the garden, the garden was renamed to Lan Su Chinese Garden. Su represents Suzhou and Lan represents Portland.

The name Lan Su Chinese Garden represents the relationship between Portland and Suzhou, the sister city in China’s Jiangsu province that is famous for its beautiful gardens. Sounds from both Portland and Suzhou are combined to form Lan Su. “Lan” is also the Chinese word for “orchid” and “Su” is the word for “Arise” or “Awaken” so the name is interpreted  poetically as “Garden of Awakening Orchids.

Considered a “paradise on earth,” Suzhou was the wealthiest, most prosperous and sopiscated city in China from the 14th through the 19th century. The wealthy and powerful sought to live or retire in Suzhou and spend fortunes building elaborate gardens. Today, sixty of these original gardens survive, eight of whic are UNESCO World Heritage sites.”

Courtyard of Tranquility

Exiting the courtyard of Tranquility

Now we know the history of the garden we went to the Courtyard of Tranquility, which was designed based in 16th century China, which represented an entry into the courtyard of a private home and garden of a wealthy family. It was a peaceful and soothing place designed to help them escape the problems of everyday life and discover their true selves by connecting with nature. There was rock mosaic, with the distant rushing waters and smell of seasonal blossoms.

Hall of Brocade Clouds and Terrace

Then we entered the main building where traditionally the family meets and entertained guests. The beautifully-framed lattice doors and windows showed an open view to the guests to display the family’s wealth and status in every direction. The intricately-carved gingko panels depicted an important collection of plants known as Three Friends of Winter: plum, bamboo and pine. In a Chinese gardens, plants serve many purposes. Besides providing beauty, color, texture and fragrance, they also conveyed meaning. For example, plum, bamboo, and pine are collectively known as the Three Friends of Winter and serve to remind us to persevere. The plum braves the cold of winter to blossom; the pine stays green throughout winter; and the bamboo bends in winter storms, but does not break.

Fish Pavilion


The name of the pavilion comes from a conversation between two ancient philosophers. Walking along a stream and looking at the fish in it, one tells the other how happy he finds the fish to be. The other replies, “You are not a fish. How can you know that the fish are happy?” The first responds, “You are not me. How do you know I don’t know the fish are happy?” In Chinese culture, all aspects of nature – from plants and animals to the changing of the seasons-offer an endless source of contemplation. Meditation, discussion and storytelling were popular activities in gardens.

Reflections in Clear Ripples

In this room, also known as the loung house, the family would gather for music, painting or playing games such as mahjong.

Flowers Bathing In Spring Rain

The Six Panels

Six Panels carved from gingko wood illustrate actual ancient garden in the city’s sister city of Suzhou. On the back of the fourth panel, there is an inscription written in calligraphy. “Most cherished in this mundane world places without traffic; truly in the midst of a city there can be a mountain and forest.” – Wen Zhengming (1470-1559)

Scholar’s Courtyard and Study

The courtyard was an extension of the scholar’s study, a quiet place for reflection and inspiration. Here symbols abound. The plum trees near the study’s entrance blossom early, signaling the coming of spring and symbolizing endurance and hope. The plum motif was repeated in the mosaic floor pattern called “plum blossoms on cracked ice.”

The couplet inscribed on the interior pillars was a reminder to persevere as well as an example of the “couplet game,” a friendly intellectual competition in which one person provides the first line of a two-line poem and the second person completes it.

The study was where the men of the family studied for civil service examinations which would ensure their family’s prosperity. It served as a place of comfort for writing poetry, practicing calligraphy, reading, admiring art collections and entertaining fellow scholars. Everything necessary was kept in hand. Furniture was practical, but also served as an opportunity to display wealth.

Moon Locking Pavilion

On a clear night, you can see the reflection of the moon as a shimmering spotlight in the center of the lake, locked in by the pavilion’s shadow. The ebb and flow of seasons, the changing of weather-even the shifting of light throughout the day-can dramatically alter the garden’s appearance.

Tower of Cosmic Reflections

In this two-story building, women in the family would view the garden and surrounding city. Much of their time would be spent here or within the walls of the garden, managing the finances and affairs of the family. At Lan Su, it serves as a teahouse promoting the social art and culture of tea.

Rock Mountain and Waterfall

The rockery was designed to appear as rugged mountains in the distance, complete with waterfalls and cascading streams.

Painted Boat in Misty Rain

This pavilion represents the boat of friendship that departed from Suzhou, made its way across the ocean and eventually docked in Portland.

So now we toured the entire garden and it brought us back to ancient China, and even though we or anyone who visited this place and never been to China will feel the ambience of being in that country. Though it was not old and historical it was still a nice place to visit. After me and my sisters took some pictures and checked out the collections in the souvenir shop, we went back to the van and had our parents and Sam do the tour.

Here is the link for more information:

Say Cheez!


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