Monday, November 7, 2011

Trees with Character

Contorted trees and trees with character are a distinguishing feature of formal Chinese gardens. The Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon, is no exception. John Stone was the landscape installation project manager for the garden 12-13 years ago (the garden opened in 2000). He worked closely with the garden’s landscape designer and architect to find mature plants full of character.

They wanted mature trees so that the garden made a favorable impression. Instead of the perfectly shaped trees that the U.S. market demands, they wanted trees that had a story to tell. Some trees they found serendipitously, others were purposefully sought after. John invited me to the garden in late October to share some of the stories of the trees that populate the garden. In addition to the stories he tells in the video, there were a few others, not necessarily about trees, that I wanted to share.

• The beautiful tiles that cover the building roofs are made by bending malleable clay over the leg of an artisan. The men doing this work have a certain leg size to ensure consistent dimensions. Every fifth tile is secured with a copper wire for earthquake protection.

• The Bamboo found in the garden were donated by Ned Jaquith, Bamboo Garden, the hardy bananas by Burl Mostul, Rare Plant Research, and the Crepe Myrtles by Lucille Whitman, Whitman Farms.

• The Three Friends of Winter can be found at the entrance to the garden: Pinus, Prunus mume (plum blossoms) and Bamboo. The stone work in the scholar’s garden enclave is a mosaic of the plum blossoms on cracked ice because they dare to bloom in winter.


  1. This is great history about Lan Su Garden's trees - Thank you John!

  2. Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012: John Stone says, "Hi Ann—I was at the Chinese Garden on Saturday and noticed that the Prunus mume buds are starting to pink." JPS