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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Portland Beauty


If there is one outstanding beauty in Portland, Oregon, my vote goes to this laceleaf maple that shines the brightest in late fall at the Japanese Garden. I was fortunate to see it in its full glory when I passed through the city last Sunday on my way home to Seattle. Five years ago, I visited too early in October to enjoy the best color.

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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Washington Park Japanese Garden (Portland, OR)


Moss is your friend.

At least, that’s what I try to tell my friends who’ve been battling to remove it from their Seattle lawns. I have long since given moss full sway in my front yard rather than covering it with sod. I’m allergic to grass anyway. After many years of inattention, there is a luxurious moss carpet underlying mature cedars and rhododendron plants and providing a home for ferns, salal, Oregon grape and periwinkle that would do a Japanese garden proud.

And so it is with the Japanese garden in Washington Park. It seems that mosses cover every square inch of this beautiful garden, considered one of the most authentic outside of Japan. I recall coming here with my family many moons ago without the reaction both my wife and I had today. The garden has greatly matured since our last visit and there has been added a beautiful gravel footpath beyond the entrance gate that is a preview of what treasures lay inside and an alternate way to the ticket booth from the parking lot. Otherwise, a shuttle can take you the long way.

We noticed the very mature Japanese maples, many of them very tall, which signifies significant age since they grow so slowly. The laceleaf maples, many of them quite old, have been beautifully shaped and maintained. A stunning specimen was just outside the pavilion whose leafy, domed canopy can be enjoyed from the veranda or whose spectacular twisted trunk and branch structure can be admired at ground level. Doubtless that at the peak of fall color, the garden will be ablaze in red and orange hues. In a different way, the colors must be spectacular at the peak of rhododendron, azalea and camellia season, too; only a few specimens were still in bloom today.

Otherwise, the garden can be appreciated for its sense of tranquility and design of spaces defined by trees, shrubs, water, rocks, changes in elevation, even man-made structures like footpaths, teahouse, bridges, shelters or stone pagodas. Also admirable is the meticulousness with which every aspect of the garden is maintained, from the careful pruning and snipping of plants with tiny trimming shears to the hours required to rake and shape the rock gardens.

And, of course, there is the moss.

Even if the weather was inclement, we were very impressed. I thought Seattle’s garden was nice, but Portland’s is vastly superior, so striking is the difference.

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