Classical Chinese Garden
NW 3rd and Everett, Portland, OR, 97208, 503-228-8131

Tower of Cosmic Reflections

The use of this building as the garden's teahouse and the specialized plantings in its vicinity speak to the art of tea. The tea plant (Camellia sinensis) probably first occurred across a range extending from Assam in northern India to Yunnan in southern China. The custom of tea drinking in China began in the 3rd century A.D. and tea is easily the best known of all Chinese plant products. Pressed into blocks with flour, ginger, onion, and salt, tea was originally consumed as a soup.

Drinking tea solely for pleasure began several centuries later and became an intimate part of the garden experience in Asia. Tea export eventually proved to be a highly profitable commercial venture and it was on tea clippers that plied this trade that many popular Chinese garden plants arrived in the west. Cultivated in warm temperate or near-tropical regions, tea plants will also thrive in the Portland area if their water needs are met in our dry summer months. A specimen of C. sinensis can be seen under the Yulan magnolia (Magnolia denudata) at the west end of the teahouse. This fall bloomer is a lightly scented, pink-flowering form named 'Blushing Maiden'. Its foliage is deep green to purple and the newest leaves would fetch the highest price if dried for tea.

Other plants in this area that influence tea include Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac), which is used to scent tea, and the chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium), harvested for its petals and said to have a cooling effect when drunk as tea in hot weather.

While pondering the subject of tea, enjoy the view across the lake to the southwest. It is dominated by a large saucer magnolia (Magnolia . soulangiana). This hybrid is a cross between two Chinese magnolias: M. denudata and M. liliiflora. The saucer magnolia towers thirty feet above the lake and rewards visitors with a profusion of purple and white, tulipshaped flowers in early spring. In ancient times, only the emperor was allowed to grow the magnolia - he would occasionally reward worthy subjects with a cutting.

chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)