Monday, May 24, 2010

A Classical Chinese Garden

On my recent trip to Portland, I had plenty of free time during the day to do some sightseeing while Daughter was busy with classes.  I took advantage of Portland's excellent and inexpensive mass transit system to visit some of the places I had marked in my guide book, including the Lan Su Chinese Garden. I have visited several Japanese gardens in the past few years, but I was curious--what did a Chinese Garden look like?

Unlike the beautiful  Portland Japanese Garden, which is situated on more than five acres of hilly woodland in Washington Park, the Lan Su Chinese Garden takes up just one city block in the heart of Old Town Portland.  Busy pedestrians passing by would have no idea what treasures lie beyond the surrounding walls.

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.

A large pond is at the center of the garden where reflections in the water represent the principles of yin and yang, the two life forces that connect to bring peace and harmony in life.  These first three elements--plants, stone, and water--combine in Chinese philosophy to rejuvenate one's qi, or energy.

At this point you may be wondering, just what is the difference between a Chinese garden and a Japanese garden?  I wondered the same thing.  An expert could probably point out many significant differences, but to my uninitiated eyes, there seemed to be only a few.  A traditional Japanese garden contains the same first three elements, but the Chinese add two more necessary elements for a complete garden: architecture and poetry. Even the names of a structure or area had poetic names; this building is called "Painted Boat in Misty Rain."

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!

As I sat sipping my tea and discreetly removing the occasional tea leaf from my mouth, I faced the open windows overlooking the garden and drank in the serenity of this peaceful oasis in the middle of the city.

I had planned to visit the Japanese Garden during this trip as well, but unfortunately didn't have time.  But I'm so glad I found the Lan Su Chinese Garden.  If you are ever in Portland, I highly recommend a visit here for a unique experience.

Engraved on one of the wooden panels seen above was this appropriate quote:

"Most cherished in this mundane world is a place without traffic: truly in the midst of a city there can be mountain and forest."

--Wen Zhengming (1470-1559)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Vole Patrol!

Warning to Readers:  This post contains content that may not be suitable for the squeamish.  At the very least, put down that sandwich!

While I was away last week visiting Coconut and Daughter , Sophie was left in the capable hands of Hubby, aka Mr. Procrastinator.  However, I was concerned about Sophie--Mr. P and I have different views on child-dog-rearing.  While I keep a close eye on her or walk her on a leash, Mr. P prefers to "let her run."  "She needs the exercise," he scolds me, "and she'll come back when she's ready."  That may be true, but like a child who knows which parent is the pushover, Sophie comes when Mr. P calls, but likes to tease me and often pretends to be deaf when I call her.

Nevertheless, I came home to find her safe and sound and so happy to see me.  She's even been better behaved since I came home.  She loves to join me in the garden, sometimes just content to supervise, but other times "helping" me dig a hole for a plant, raking up mulch, or mixing up the compost pile all by herself:)  But if the chores become too tedious, she starts to wander off.  Yesterday, I realized she was no longer beside me.  I scanned the fields for her wagging tail and eventually saw her in the back yard of a house in the neighboring subdivision.  Uh-oh.  I grabbed her leash and set out across the muddy field, crunching through the cornstubble.

By now she had had her fun and was on her way back home, but I could see she had found something along the way.  Oh no, had she finally caught a bird?  As she came up to me, I was thankful it wasn't a bird, but rather a vole.  Or at least I think it was a vole--it might have been a field mouse instead, but by this time it was a slobbery, disgusting, and unrecognizable mess.  "Good girl!" I said.  "You can catch all the voles and mice you want."  Sophie was so pleased she wasn't getting scolded that she lay down to enjoy her prize. (Notice those dirty paws!)

"Yuck! Sophie don't eat it . . ."

"I like the way the little bonesies go crunch."

"Do you think there are any more of them over there?"

"It's okay, Mom; I promise not to give you a kiss until you've brushed my teeth."

Well, I guess it beats setting out chewed up bubblegum or peanut butter on mousetraps!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

GBBD: New Additions

After months of waiting, the day has finally come--May 15, the last frost date in my Zone 5 garden!  Time to safely plant annuals . . . now if I could just find the time to buy some, let alone plant them.  It's also time for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, the day to showcase what is blooming in our gardens.  Here's a quick look at what is blooming in my garden, but please keep your eyes focused on the blooms only--between being gone for a week and intermittent rain, there has been very little time for weeding. 

May in my garden is more a time of promise, with buds and lots of green growth, but few blooms.  However, the clematis 'Nelly Moser' enjoys May and is the most prolific bloomer here.  She would probably look even better if  I had pruned her earlier, but the warm weather in early April caught me by surprise.  In addition to 'Nelly,' other early bloomers include Nepeta 'Walker's Low," Salvia 'May Night,' Salvia 'Eveline,' and a few blossoms on the red Knockout roses.  There are also some "hangers-on" from the April Bloom Day, most notable Brunnera, 'Jack Frost.'

Instead of showing everything that is blooming today, I wanted to focus on some new additions to the garden this spring.  The new lily garden is slowly filling in, including two new Knockouts 'Radsunny.'  Since this is still a fairly new cultivar, it's much more expensive than the reds or pinks that have been around for awhile.  I splurged on one gallon plant and then decided to buy a less expensive and smaller quart size.  The larger 'Radsunny' was blooming by the time I returned from Portland, but wouldn't you know it, I didn't get a photo of it till its yellow blooms had faded to white.

But more yellow buds promise I'll get another chance soon to capture its true appearance.

One of the unexpected benefits of working in the Master Gardeners' Idea Garden has been the chance to get plants at next-to-nothing prices.  Part of the spring clean-up process is to divide up overgrown plants or remove some altogether to make room for something new; these extra divisions are set aside for anyone to take for a small donation to the garden fund.  Two weeks ago I came home with several starts, including this plant that wasn't labelled but looked intriguing.  I soon found out it was a Thalictrum or Meadow Rue.

I was really excited, though, to see the label on this plant, Amsonia 'Blue Star.'  I've been wanting an Amsonia ever since I saw it in Chicago at the Lurie Garden last year.  It was quite small when I brought it home and I really didn't expect to see it bloom this year, but if you look very closely, you'll see some blue clusters--I think I may have blooms after all this spring!  Other new additions brought home from the Idea Garden include several starts of a 'Becky' daisy and a cranesbill, neither of which is blooming yet.  I also received some yellow irises from the garden of another Master Gardener--I love free plants!

Speaking of the Lurie Garden, the Baptisia is in full bloom!  I am really happy with this plant--I planted it just last summer, and it's already two feet tall and covered in vivid purple blooms.

It's no wonder this plant was named the 2010 Perennial of the Year.

Another addition inspired by last year's Spring Fling in Chicago are these alliums.  My notes are in disarray at the moment, so I don't remember the particular variety of bulb I planted, but these are the larger alliums, reaching around 3 feet high.

I have a feeling there will lots of alliums featured this spring in the gardens of those who attended Spring Fling last year.

And finally, I've saved what may be the best for last--the renowned Practically Perfect Pink Phlox, Phlox Pilosa, brought home last October from the generous gardener at Clay and Limestone.  Thanks, Gail!

For a look at more blooms from around the world, be sure to visit our hostess, the Queen of May, Carol at May Dreams Gardens.  Also, if you missed my last post, take a quick look at the photos below of some gorgeous blooms in Portland, Oregon where azaleas and rhododendrons rule!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Visit to the City of Roses

I've just returned from spending the past week with Youngest Daughter in Portland, Oregon.  A visit to the "City of Roses" would not be complete without stopping by the beautiful International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park.  Situated on five acres overlooking the city with Mount Hood in the background, the garden has more than 550 varieties of roses.

The Portland garden is the oldest of 24 public rose test gardens in the United States for the AARS.  Much time and thought was given to the best time to visit Daughter, including working around her busy class and work schedule.  Obviously, bloom time at the Rose Garden was considered, but not the top priority for this visit.  By late May this scene should be transformed into a glorious riot of color. 

Nevertheless, walking around the many rows of hybrid teas, floribundas, and other varieties, a few blooms were spotted, like this 'Mordin Sunrise.'

And this 'What a Peach' hybrid tea.  I'm very reluctant to try my hand at planting tea roses, which need more TLC than I have time for, but visiting a test garden like this would be a good start for choosing the best varieties to plant.  Not only would you be able to get a true idea of what the blooms would look like, you would also have an idea of which plants were the most robust.  All of the roses here looked so healthy, but, even in the bud stage, there were certain varieties that looked especially vigorous.  Of course, what grows well in Portland might not do as well in the hot, humid summers and cold winters of Illinois, but a visit to a closer test garden--such as the Chicago Botanic Garden for me--would give a good idea of what roses do well in your particular area.

Not surprisingly, this area to the side of the test garden caught my eye and had to be checked out.

The Shakespeare garden contained many other plants besides roses, but only the roses were labelled.  I didn't find a Romeo or Juliet, but Thisbe, Hero, and Prospero were among those featured here.  I would love to see 'Fair Bianca' in bloom some time.

"A rose by any other name . . ."  Will always had a way with words:)

While Portland may be called "The City of Roses," at this time of year it could also be easily called "The City of Azaleas and Rhododendrons."  The roses might not be in full bloom yet, but everywhere I went, there were the most gorgeous displays of azaleas and rhodies I've ever seen. 

Earlier in the morning I had visited the Chinese Garden downtown (more on that in a later post) and was so impressed by the size of this rhododendron tree that I had to ask a guide to make sure that it was actually a rhododendron.  I've never seen ones that actually grew to tree size before!

I soon discovered the tree at the Chinese Garden was not an anomaly because throughout the city as well as at the Rose Garden, rhododenrons and azaleas often grew to tree-size. 

We Midwesterners just aren't used to a sight like this.

Back at home, there aren't any rhododendrons like these.  Instead I have lots of mundane chores to catch up on like unpacking, laundry, and trying to see how many strange e-mails I've supposedly sent out lately.  Apparently, I have been "spoofed"--a new term I've unfortunately become familiar with recently--and someone is sending out e-mails to everyone in my address book with my name on them.  It's a different account than what is listed in my profile, but if you happen to receive an e-mail from me with a strange subject heading, do not open it!   I apologize--I am certainly not endorsing any male enhancement products:)

The garden also is in dire need of attention, and the seedlings put under the care of Mr. Procrastinator aren't looking too good at the moment.  But all that will have to wait until the rain stops, and I catch up on some sleep...

Visiting the sites in Portland, including its many beautiful gardens, was definitely a treat, but the best part of my trip was, of course, spending time with these two sweeties. Mother's Day was a special treat this year since I hadn't seen my daughter or Coconut since August; a day at the beach was enjoyable with the two of them, even if it was too cold to stick a toe in the Pacific.  I can't wait until they can come home for a long visit in July!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May Book Review: The White Garden

"You should have white flowers here.  Nothing else.  They'd rise in the dark like fairy lamps, lighting your way to bed . . . White clematis. White lavender, white agapanthus, white double-primroses. White anemones . . . "

--from The White Garden: A Novel of Virginia Woolf  by Stephanie Barron

Gardeners who pick up The White Garden without reading the book jacket will be sorely disappointed that this is not a book about the famed gardens at Sissinghurst Castle.  But mystery lovers, particularly if they also happen to be gardeners, will thoroughly enjoy this novel of literary suspense.

 Sissinghurst castle, photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Landscape designer Jo Bellamy has been sent to Sissinghurst to study the famous White Garden created by Vita Sackville-West in order to duplicate it for her client back in the Hamptons. Jo has another reason for being eager to visit the area--her grandfather had lived nearby, and she hopes to discover some clue in his past to explain his recent suicide.  His death had come as a complete shock to Jo and her grandmother, and the note he left behind at his death only compounded the mystery.

In searching through old record books of the garden at Sissinghurst, Jo finds a diary with a possible connection to her grandfather, but even more surprisingly, it is a diary that may have been written by Virginia Woolf, days after she was believed to have killed herself!

Jo borrows the diary in order to authenticate it and ultimately discover some information to explain her grandfather's mysterious final note.   In the process the diary is stolen, and Jo finds herself on a wild journey across the English countryside searching for the missing diary and for the truth about Woolf's final days. 

Not much white in my garden unless you count the white blooms of the crabapple in early spring.
While Jo eventually discovers the answers to both Woolf's death and her grandfather's suicide,  the answers are not particularly satisfying to the reader.  Jo must also deal with her feelings about her married employer, Gray Westlake, who follows her to England. A romance with a new acquaintance further confuses her.  The romantic subplots are not very well-developed, and I thought they distracted from the main plot.  But both the weak romantic scenes and the ambiguous resolution of the conflict can be forgiven, because the rest of the novel is an intriguing story that moves along at a fast pace.

My white 'Vanilla Cream' tulips

Excerpts of the supposed Woolf diary are interspersed with the narrative, which creates much of the intrigue. According to most biographies of her, Virginia Woolf, whose writing was influential in the development of the 20th century novel, suffered from depression most of her adult life and on March 28, 1941 filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself in the river Ouse near her home.  Barron, the author of the series of Jane Austen mysteries (none of which I've read--yet), takes liberties with the historical account for a plausible and entertaining story. 

My favorite of all the tulips, 'Angelique' looks almost white, but is tinged with pale pink.

When I went to to check out some background on the author, I found mixed reviews of The White Garden.  But I thoroughly enjoyed it, and what's more, it prompted me to do some further research.  I knew very little about Virginia Woolf, having read only a few of her short stories.  Vita Sackville-West, author and creator of the "White Garden," was only a vague name encountered somewhere in my previous reading.  Learning more about these two influential literary figures--and rather scandalous women for their time--proved to be very entertaining.  And no doubt, long-time gardeners would be shocked to know that I had never heard of the "White Garden" or of Sissinghurst before!  Reading about the story of Sissinghurst online and viewing  images of the famous gardens has been another unexpected pleasant benefit of picking up Stephanie Barron's The White Garden on a whim at the library one day.

Be sure to check out other book reviews at this month's meeting of the Book Review Club hosted by Barrie Summy.

All book reviews posted here are purely at the whim of this blogger; no compensation of any kind has been received for this review. 

I'm off to visit my youngest daughter for a few days, so blog posting and reading will be limited for awhile.  I haven't seen her since August, so I know you'll understand how excited I am!