Portland PCCG logo Classical Chinese Garden
NW 3rd and Everett, Portland, Oregon 97209  503-228-8131
About the Garden          FAQ          

Frequently Asked Questions

When did the Garden open?
The garden opened September 14th, 2000.
Where is the Garden located?
The Garden is located between NW 2nd and 3rd and NW Flanders and Glisan in Old Town/Chinatown. The Garden can be reached from I-405 by taking the Everett Street Exit and turning East. The garden is also available by MAX, which is Portland's light rail system, or by buses 1, 4, 5, 8, 10, 16, 33, 40, and 77.
How much is admission?
Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5.50 for students, with children under 5 for free. With a membership admission is free for one year.
What are your hours?
November 1 - March 31: 10:00am - 5:00pm
April 1 - October 31: 9:00am - 6:00pm
Holiday Schedule
Thanksgiving - Closed
Christmas Eve - 10:00am - 4:00pm
Christmas Day - Closed
New Year's Eve - 10:00am - 4:00pm
New Year's Day - Closed
What is a membership?
All memberships are good for one-year free admission to the Garden, a 10% discount in the gift store and teahouse, and quarterly newsletter. Prices are $25 for a student or senior membership, $35 for an individual membership, $60 for a family membership with additional higher memberships. More information on becoming a member is available.
How big is the Garden?
The Garden is one city block or approximately 40,000 square feet.
How big is the lake?
The lake, named Lake Zither, is about 8,000 square feet.
What are those free-standing rocks?
The rocks, called Tai Hu rocks are limestone mined from Lake Tai, a fresh-water lake near Suzhou. They are prized for their four virtues which are: the holes that allow life force to flow freely, the rough texture, their slenderness, and being top-heavy. Over 500 tons of rock was shipped from China for the Garden. More information on Tai Hu rocks and the five elements of Classical Suzhou Gardens is available.
What types of wood are used in the Garden?
There are three types of wood used in the Garden. San-Mu (Northeast China Fir) is used for most of the beams and columns. Dong-Bei-Song (Northeast China Pine) is used for the largest columns. Yingxing (Gingko) wood is used for the pale yellow decorative carving in the Pavilions. Nanmu (similar to walnut) is used for the carvings in the doors and windows.
What are leak windows?
The windows, around the Garden and inside the walls, are called "leak" windows since they allow the visitor to see the view "leaking" through. There are 51 windows, each unique, in and around the Garden. More information on leak windows and the "borrowed view" is available.
Is there a Gift Store?
The Garden has a gift store just outside the entrance which is open the same hours as the garden.
What is a Teahouse?
The Garden's teahouse, run by the Tao of Tea, located with the Garden allows visitors to sip authentic Chinese tea and view the Garden. The Teahouse also offers small snack. It is located in the Tower of Cosmic Reflections.
Where can I park?
The Garden is surrounded by on-street parking meters, both short term and long term. A number of parking garages within a few blocks including a Smartpark on the corner of NW Davis and Naito Parkway.
Is the Garden available for rent?
The Garden is available for both before and after hours events, including weddings. For more information, you may contact Michelle Ford at 503/228-8131 x 1010.
Are tours available?
The Garden tries to offer tours on a daily basis at noon and 1 pm. You may visit the Garden without a tour, and tours are free. To schedule a private tour of 15 or more, please call the Garden's tour coordinator at 503/228-8131 x 1001.
Is the Garden wheelchair accessible?
The Garden has a wheelchair accessible route that travels throughout the garden.
Who owns the Garden?
The City of Portland owns the Garden, and contracts with the Portland Classical Chinese Garden, a non-profit organization, to operate the Garden.
Can I bring my pet?
Please leave your pets at home.

Resources

The Portland Classical Chinese Garden is dedicated to furthering all peoples understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture. There are several other superb Chinese gardens in North America. In addition, a reading list has been provided for anyone interested in learning more about classical Chinese gardens, art and and landscaping.

Sites of Interest:

Selected Resources for Further Study:

Chen, Lifang and Yu Siangtin. “The Garden Art of China.” Portland: Timber Press, 1986.
Although out of print, you should be able to find a copy at your local library or through interlibrary loan.

Hu, Dongchu. “The Way of the Virtuous: the Influence of Art and Philosophy on Chinese Garden Design.” Beijing: New World Press, 1991.
Lots of b&w photos with a thorough explanation of the philosophy behind the scholars garden.

Ji, Cheng. “The Craft of Gardens.” New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.
Illustrated. This is the book all others refer to and quote from; if you can read only one book this should be the one. Ji Cheng lived, wrote and created gardens during the last years of the Ming Dynasty. This is the only translation into English of his garden manual, with extensive notes. Long out of print, but available through your library.

Keswick, Maggie, et al. “In a Chinese Garden: the Art & Architecture of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.” Vancouver, B.C.: The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden Society of Vancouver, 1990.
63 p. of useful text and color photos of the first full-scale Chinese classical garden outside Asia. Maggie Keswick has also written other useful books about Chinese gardens.

Too, Lillian. “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Feng Shui.” Boston: Element Books, 1999.
She has written this and several other very readable books explaining this ancient art of interacting with the forces of nature.

Lowry, Robert D. “Worlds Within Worlds: the Richard Rosenblum Collection of Chinese Scholar’s Rocks.” Cambridge: Harvard University Art Museum, 1997.
A scholarly work, beautifully illustrated, about the small stones displayed indoors.

Murck, Alfreda and Wen Fong. “A Chinese Garden Court: the Astor Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” NY, MOMA, 1980. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Winter 1980/81)
64 pages of excellent information and illustrations about this Suzhou style courtyard garden.

Tsu, Frances Ya-sing. “Landscape Design in Chinese Gardens.” NY: McGraw-Hill, 1988.
244 pages of very good information with many b&w photos.

Valder, Peter. “The Garden Plants of China.” Portland: Timber Press, 1999.
400 pages of excellent information with many color photos.

Williams, C.A.S. “Chinese Symbolism and Art Motifs.” Rutland: Tuttle, 1988.
472 pages of useful information in alphabetical order with some b&w illustrations.

Living Collections

E.H. Wilson, one of the most successful plant hunters of the 20th century, referred to China as the Mother of Gardens. Consider that China is home to more than 30,000 plant species. This number represents fully one eighth of the world total. Many of the plants we know and love in the West originated in China, yet few people recognize China’s influence in their own gardens.

As the United States continues to foster cultural exchange with China through friendship projects, our knowledge of Chinese flora as well as the opportunity to cultivate these plants in the West increases. Considerable effort is now being made by international consortiums to identify threatened and endangered species native to China and bring them into cultivation both in China and elsewhere. Because China is home to such a large proportion of the world’s plants, the preservation of these species is of special importance to all people.

The living collections at the Portland Classical Chinese Garden present hundreds of native Chinese plant species and forms. The Garden is home to more than ninety specimen trees, many rare and unusual shrubs and perennials, and signature collections that include Magnolia, Cymbidium, Camellia, Osmanthus, Rhododendron and bamboo. Many of these plants have a long history in traditional Chinese gardens while others reflect the efforts of relatively recent expeditions into China’s hinterlands for wild-collected species virtually unknown in the West. Still others speak to the work of scientists and plantsmen to showcase desirable characteristics through breeding and selection of garden worthy hybrids and cultivars.

Our mission in developing this unique and diverse living collection is twofold. As a botanical garden, we seek to create as much diversity as possible within a small footprint (only one city block). Our goal is to provide visitors with a microcosmic view of the wealth of China’s native flora. As a purveyor of traditional Chinese culture, the Garden’s botanical collections provide an invaluable tool for explaining customs and traditions rooted in human interaction with plants over China’s lengthy and well-recorded history.

In addition to our physical collection of plants, a comprehensive plant database documenting the Garden’s living collections was launched in July 2005. Individual entries include physical descriptions, cultural anecdotes where appropriate, images, and maps for conveniently locating plants in the Garden’s landscape. The site is presented in both English and Chinese.

The garden also provides plant specific tours that are of interest to both home gardeners and professionals in the fields of horticulture and botany. Classes and lectures relevant to Chinese horticulture are offered throughout the year.

A Garden Built by a Community

The roots of the Portland Classical Chinese Garden are firmly planted in the sister-city relationship between Portland, Oregon and Suzhou, China. To the monks who nurtured 1,000-year-old camellias behind the sheltering walls of aged temples and to the artisans, crafts people, and plantsmen who built the garden and procured the plants, we express our most sincere appreciation. And to the citizens, east and west, who so generously gifted the garden with relevant species and private contributions, our heartfelt thanks. 

An example of a Taihu stone found in the Portland Classical Chinese Garden

Five Elements

China has three basic styles of garden: expansive imperial gardens, those in or near temples situated to take advantage of the natural scenery surrounding them, and private gardens. Suzhou, Portland’s Sister City, is called the “Garden City of China” and is famous for its private gardens.

In the west we speak of planting a garden, the Chinese think of building one. Rather than imitate nature, the Chinese gardener tries to recreate an ideal landscape in miniature with mountains, lakes, trees, and their qi, or energy, and to incorporate man’s place within nature.

The Chinese word for landscape, shan shui, means literally “mountains and water” and a common phrase for making a garden, again translated literally, is “digging ponds and piling mountains.” Water and stone are therefore important elements in the creation of a garden.

Stone

Stone is the hard skeletal structure of the world. It’s used in a garden in two important ways: as sculpture and as building material. What most often intrigues the first-time visitor to a Chinese garden are the strangely shaped standing stones--the most prized of all are Taihu stones. Formed of limestone brought up from the bed of Lake Tai, only thirty kilometers west of Suzhou, they demonstrate, over the course of many years, the soft force of water as it wears away hard stone. They line the edges of garden ponds, are piled into false mountains, and are set up as monolithic abstract sculpture.

Granite is used at the base of each wooden column, in bridgework, walkways, and courtyards. This light-colored stone is recognizable by the lines on it’s surface--marks of the hammers and chisels of stonemasons who hand cut these stones for use in the garden. Another form of stone are the tall slender “shoot stones,” so called because of their resemblance to bamboo shoots, and, for this reason, are often planted near bamboo. Riddled with holes, their origin is the subject of endless scholarly debate among garden guides. Lastly, waterworn pebbles, in combination with bits of quarried stone, broken pottery, and roof tiles set on edge, are used extensively in walkways and paved courtyards in a wide variety of patterns.

Water

When opposites are in balance there is rejuvenating qi energy, and so the solidity of stone should be balanced by the softness of water. Water, as the circulatory system of the earth, also brings vital energy to the garden and to its visitors.

Like a mirror, the ever-changing effects of sun and clouds enter the garden a second time through their reflection in the lake. A body of water has practical use in fighting fires, as a source of water for irrigation, and as a source for fresh fish. It also helps regulate humidity, and both purifies and cools the air around it.

Architecture

Western visitors are often amazed and confused by the number of buildings found in Chinese gardens. In fact, since gardens were part of the extended living space for the adjacent family home, the siting of the principal buildings was the most important element in the layout of gardens. And, since garden buildings were less restricted by traditional regulations concerning architecture, they could come in many forms--for variety, no two would be the same. Some garden structures include:

  • Fáng - a boat-shaped pavilion, also called a dry-land boat
  • Lang - a covered corridor or roofed walkway
  • Lóu - a two-storied building, occasionally used as living quarters by young, unmarried female members of the family
  • Qiáo - bridges
  • Shuixie - a waterside pavilion, half extended out over the lake
  • Táng - the main hall
  • Tíng - a pavilion, or literally ‘stopping’ place in which to rest
  • Xuan - a studio for painting or calligraphy, enclosed in a small quiet courtyard

Literature and the Arts

The owners of such gardens were scholars, among the best-educated in China--poetry writing and familiarity with the classics were two of the requirements for early Chinese civil service examinations. Guests they brought to their gardens were also among the elite of society at that time, and poetry added another level of intellectual pleasure to their experience of the garden. Today we might be tempted to call writing on walls or stones graffiti, but for the Chinese scholar they were decorative “conversation pieces” meant to spark discussion among their guests.

The garden was a place for many other activities as well--enjoying chess or other games, listening to or playing musical instruments, watching theatrical performances, creating paintings in ink on paper, or tending miniature potted trees.

Plants

While flowers are lovely, and varieties have been planted so something is in bloom in each season in the garden, many plants are chosen as much for their fragrance as for their color. In a western garden flowers often play a primary role--and so what we see is very important. In a Chinese garden what we don’t see is equally important, as everything contains hidden symbolism, including the plants. Flowers represent the four seasons, the lotus signifies purity, the pine antiquity, the bamboo uprightness, and so on. Plants serve other purposes as well, some are edible or have medicinal properties, and the hardy banana is planted under the eaves in order to take advantage of the sound of rain dripping from the roof and falling on their large leaves. Trees are said to give the age of a garden, and the designers of Lan Su Yuan wanted our garden to be a hundred years old when the gates first opened to the public. Rather than plant a tree and wait for it to grow, they went to the extra effort to bring in full-grown trees into the garden. And, in tribute to the generosity of local garden nurseries and the community, most of the plants in the garden were contributions. Thanks in part to a long historical association among pacific rim countries, many local sources were found for rare specimens of native Chinese plants.

By combining the five elements of stone, water, architecture, literature and the arts, and plants, we can experience within the garden the essential balance between humanity and nature.

Garden Plan

Painted Boat in Misty Rain

Our Mission

The mission of the Portland Classical Chinese Garden is to cultivate an oasis of tranquil beauty and harmony to inspire, engage, and educate our global community in the appreciation of a richly authentic Chinese culture.

Overview

Created to nurture and inspire all who visit, this Garden is little changed from what might have greeted you during the Ming dynasty in China. Portland’s is an authentic Suzhou-style garden. It grew out of a friendship between Portland and Suzhou, a city renowned for its exquisite gardens.

This walled Garden encloses a full city block. Serpentine walkways, a bridged lake, and open colonnades set off meticulously arranged landscape of plants, water, stone, poetry, and buildings. Architects and artisans from China who designed and constructed the Garden mean for each aspect of the Garden to convey artistic effect and symbolic importance.

The design embodies the duality of nature, yin and yang. When these are balanced, harmony results. The delicate balance in the Garden affects all your senses. Hear the sound of water dripping from the crescent-shaped tiles onto a banana leaf; enjoy the fragrance of jasmine or wintersweet; feel the sensation of each footstep on the mosaic stone paths.

The Garden unfolds a changing look by season. Each one as lovely as the last. It is home to hundreds of rare and unusual plants, nearly 100 specimen trees, water plants, bamboo and orchids. Taihu rocks symbolize high mountain peaks and frame a waterfall. Nine pavilions offer places to rest and contemplate. Couplets of poetry speak to the interplay with nature.

The yin and yang of the Garden take you to another place and time.

Hours

November 1 - March 31:  10:00am - 5:00pm
April 1 - October 31:  9:00am - 6:00pm