Spring blooms at the Lan Su Chinese Garden

Right now may be one of the best times of the year to visit the Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland.

Mandi Atkinson is one of three horticulturalists at the garden. During the spring season, she says, there are anywhere from 30 to 50 plants blooming.

“I think in terms of times to be here, spring is it because we have such a diversity of blooming plants,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson said diversity makes this Chinese garden different than many. They went beyond what you would typically see in a Chinese garden in choosing plants that demonstrate the number and variety of flowering plants in their own nurseries and from China.

The Lan Su Garden is the result of a collaboration between Portland and its sister city Suzhou. Suzhou is located in China’s Jiangsu province, well known for its beautiful Ming Dynasty gardens.

In addition to the impressive variety of flora, Lan Su incorporates the traditional five elements that define a Chinese garden: rocks, plants, water, poetry and architecture. Each element, and often each plant, holds some significance.

For example, the plum, bamboo and pine are together known as the Three Friends of Winter and serve as a reminder of perseverance. The plum continues to bloom in the winter, the pine stays green in the cold, and the bamboo bends without breaking.

“Between all of the symbolism and meaning everywhere you twist and turn, I think more gardens should be designed like that, to have the multisensory aspect of it and to have the four seasons incorporated,” Atkinson said. “There’s a whole lot of meaning in a garden like this. I find it really inspiring.”

Not only is Lan Su unique, but according to Atkinson, who has been working in gardens since 2003 and at Lan Su for the last five years, there aren’t many Chinese gardens outside of China, making Portland fortunate to have one of its own.

“Preserving these historic pieces of art is important,” Atkinson said. “Especially to be able to have one here. And everyone has access to see it. It’s a rarity.”

In addition to everything there is to see and smell, the garden will host a series of poetry events during the month of April. Events include a weekly poetry tour and a poetry series featuring local and regional poets.