Visiting the Lan Su Chinese Garden in NW Portland is a chance to step into a dreamy vision of a scholar’s world set in the famously beautiful Chinese city of Suzhou. The garden is designed to replicate the classic 600-year-old style of China’s cultural height, hundreds of years before English gunboats dragged the ancient empire into the melée of the modern world.

Nestled in the busy lower Pearl district, the Lan Su Chinese Garden is an oasis of peace and green.

Nestled in the busy lower Pearl district, the Lan Su Chinese Garden is an oasis of peace and green.

Photo courtesy Lan Su Chinese Garden

“That was the Ming Dynasty,” explains Venus Sun, a visitor experience coordinator at the garden. “Back in that time, scholars would have to master all of the classical arts to pass the civil exam and earn their social rank.”

Writing and calligraphy were at the top of the list. “You also have to master poetry, Chinese painting, musical instrument and Chinese chess to become a government official.”

Obviously, the times and requirements of government office have changed, but the exquisite notion that political power demanded one be a “cultivated gentlemen” is a source of the inspired design of the Lan Sun Chinese Garden.

Here, strategically arranged plants remind the scholar of his constant companions – the pine, the bamboo and the plum – who like himself, do not wither as the cold days of winter (or the political climate) set in.

Here also, a subtly angled balustrade allows one to comfortably contemplate the naturalness of a fish, who is never out of its element.

Cleverly placed stones stimulate the acupressure points of the scholar’s feet as he wanders his tranquil paradise in quest of wisdom for good decision-making.
Up-turned stones create acupressure points that stimulate the wander scholar’s feet for optimum health and vitality.

Up-turned stones create acupressure points that stimulate the wander scholar’s feet for optimum health and vitality.

Photo courtesy Lan Su Chinese Garden

Finally, he arrives at the rear of the garden and his study. Here in the “Hall of Permeating Fragrance,” the scholar cultivates his skill in calligraphy, chess, painting, music, and the composition of poetry. One imagines that the eponymous “permeating fragrance” is what will eventually draw him out for another round of moon gazing and blossom appreciation.

Even for those whose burdens of office are more mundane, a visit to this luscious distillation of nature and ideals is a pretty dreamy experience in the heart of the bustling city of Portland.