Completed in 2000, the garden is touted as the "most authentic Chinese garden outside of China." Most of the materials came from China, and 54 artisans from Portland's sister city in China, Suzhou, lived in Portland for ten months while they completed the structures crafted in China. Over 400 plant species and cultivars found in traditional Chinese gardens are featured here.
According to the garden's website, a traditional Chinese garden is designed to engage all one's senses and contains five elements. The first element, naturally, is plants.
Many representations of Bonsai were present, including this rhododendron. Notice the ornately carved wooden panels behind the Bonsai--element 4, which we will get to in a few moments.
The second necessary element is rocks. This unusual rock is a Lake Tai rock, which is formed underwater, with the flow of water creating its unusual shape.
Intricately laid rock mosaic pathways are meant to be seen and felt.
Water is the third element of this classical garden. This waterfall combines three of the elements: water, stone, and poetry.
Buildings are an important component in a Chinese garden, and I think it is in their architecture that you really see the distinct differences from a Japanese garden. Unlike the simple, clean lines we associate with the Japanese style, these structures feature very ornate lines and embellishments. The curved lines of this roof are typical of all the buildings; the style is not simply decorative, but also in many cases symbolic. The drip tiles seen here have 5 bats on each representing the five blessings--long life, good fortune, good health, a love of virtue, and a painless passing.
Another aspect of the architecture is the use of doors and windows which "form views within views, creating the illusion of infinite space."
These openings create the perfect opportunity for a photographer, with a ready made frame for all kinds of lovely views.
The final element of a Chinese garden is poetry. You can see the poetry engraved on the ceiling and the columns here in the Scholar's study, but poetry was written everywhere, including carved into the stone of the waterfall pictured above. There was only one problem with these poems--I couldn't translate them! A few were translated into English in the guide book given to visitors, but for the most part they were an enigma to me. Still I appreciated the idea that the Chinese valued poetry so much that they considered it an essential part of their gardens.
Located behind the zigzag bridge--a traditional element in Japanese gardens, too--was the teahouse. A brief rest and some refreshments sounded good to me, so I stopped in. The teahouse served only snacks, so I chose some coconut tartlets, which were quite tasty. And, of course, I thought I would have some tea. But what kind of tea? There were pages of choices with detailed descriptions, a larger selection than the wine list at a five-star restaurant . . . not that I've ever been to a five-star restaurant:)
My usual Lipton's green tea wasn't on the menu, so the selection process took some thinking. In the end, I decided on a white peony tea, which seemed appropriate since a peony festival was to begin the next day at the Garden. The tea was served in a gaiwan, a container that looked like a two-handled soup bowl with a lid. The waitress demonstrated the proper method of drinking tea from the vessel--holding the lid at an angle to push the tea leaves away while sipping from it. I was a little uncomfortable about this until I noticed the other patrons gingerly drinking their tea in the same way.
To add to the authentic atmosphere, a musician began to play a guzheng, a traditional Chinese instrument that looks somewhat like a zither. Now I wish I had purchased one of his CD's--it would have been the perfect background music for practicing my Tai Chi!