Parting Shots at Portland’s Japanese Garden


My wife and I have never driven I-5 through the Northwest in October. This year we did, en route to Southern California. The autumn leaves were gorgeous all along the interstate, mostly yellow with occasional spots of orange and red. They helped break up the monotony of having gone this route many times before.

Randolph E. Collier rest area (California), Interstate 5, just south of the Oregon state line

When I was in Southern California it dawned on me that we’d be passing through Portland later in the month on the way home. I tried to keep a close tab on the fall colors as they were developing in the Japanese Garden.

Trying to find out the current status of the maples wasn’t easy. The website japanesegarden.org didn’t do frequent enough updates to be helpful. So fortune would have to shine on us and it wouldn’t be too late by the time we got to Rose City. As it turned out this year, for best color, the third week was probably best. Yet when we arrived the following week, fortunately there was plenty to admire, in particular the stunning lace leaf maple whose glory I was able to capture on camera. Here is a view from a slightly different angle.

Portland’s Japanese garden is recognized as being the finest outside Japan. I’ve seen it grow and mature over the years, infrequent though my visits have been, and become the breathtaking ambassador it is today. My last time here was in early October 2013, a bit early for best fall color. So it was with great anticipation and fingers crossed that my wife and I arrived on Sunday (October 28). Because it was two hours before closing, we had to keep up a faster pace than we wanted, but we were still rewarded with splendor. The forecasts for thundershowers didn’t materialize; there was only an occasional sprinkle.

After leaving, we headed straight to Ataula, one of our favorite restaurants in Portland. Not wishing to get stuck in Portland’s awful rush hour traffic on Monday morning, we got a room for the night in Vancouver, Washington, just across the Columbia River.

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October in the Washington Park Arboretum


Almost lost in the bounty of beautiful gardens in Seattle is the Washington Park Arboretum, jointly operated by the University of Washington and the city of Seattle. It is a showcase for botanical specimens that do well in our climate. Plants and trees are spread out over some 250 acres, the landscaping not as concentrated as they are in most gardens. Appreciation of the arboretum requires walking over a network of easy paths. Not surprisingly, the most spectacular seasons are spring and autumn when in one, the flowers of the evergreen shrubs make their appearance and in the other, beautiful fall foliage puts on a show.

With light fog and partial afternoon clearing in the forecast, we hopped in our car to re-visit.

Locating particular specimens requires a map. The Graham Visitors Center at the arboretum’s north end will provide you with the current month’s highlights whose locations are numbered on a free map, or you can visit the website. There is no admission fee.

Today, the leaves of several kinds of trees were at their colorful best. Not only did we appreciate the fall colors but also admired several plant collections connected by a system of paths, some of them stairways, scattered with occasional benches for resting or admiring the views.

Just last month, the arboretum dedicated a new, two-acre section devoted to the plants, shrubs and grasses of the South Island of New Zealand, which is where my daughter and her family live. For now, all you can see are small plant specimens. In ten years or so, the area will look more mature. The New Zealand display is located in the Pacific Collections Gardens in the south end.

The Japanese Gardens are also physically part of the arboretum though it is operated solely by the city of Seattle.

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Fall Colors at the Washington Park Japanese Garden (Portland, OR)


Our visit to the Portland Japanese Gardens this past May convinced us that we should make a return trip in October to catch the fall colors. As it turns out, the best time would have been next week, but a prior commitment prevented us from going then. Still, the Japanese maples have begun to color. Even without that, the mature specimens are simply spectacular.

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Fall Colors in the Seattle Japanese Garden (Seattle, WA)



The Seattle Japanese Garden, nestled in the Washington Park Arboretum near the University of Washington, is beautiful at any time of year, but never more so than in the autumn, when brilliant fall colors run riot among the Japanese maples. In the past, we never managed to visit the garden at the right moment when the trees are at their colorful peak. This year, the Pacific Northwest was blessed with an extended summer of clear skies and warm daytime temperatures that lasted into the middle of October, coupled with cold evenings, those together the recipe for a potentially brilliant display. It did not disappoint. We had no intention today of visiting as the forecast was for showers and thundershowers throughout the day. But when we noticed after breakfast that there were sun breaks through the cloud cover and no precipitation, we jumped in the car and headed for the garden.

Almost immediately past the entrance, there was a beautifully pruned, magnificent laceleaf maple, with brilliant orange foliage. At 15 feet tall, it is a mature shrub, almost regal in its splendor.

Laceleaf maple
The footpaths around the garden are packed down with gravel with some stepping stones over water and a small bridge. The main path makes a loop around a lake stocked with large numbers of koi, which are more visible in warmer months. Most of the maples are found in the northern part of the garden.



The teahouse is generally not open to the public, though there are tea demonstrations (chado) on certain dates of the year. When surrounded by fall colors, the teahouse and surrounding garden take on a most serene atmosphere (top image).

Throughout the garden, we admired the temporal beauty provided by fallen leaves on moss-covered ground.

Burning bush
The weather, though cold and crisp, stayed dry and mostly sunny during our short visit before the crowds began appearing in earnest.

Seattle Japanese Garden
Seattle, WA
206.684.4725
Coordinates of entrance: 47.628644,-122.295948
 

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