Lan Su, in Portland’s Chinatown, is not only the best, but the most authentic Chinese garden outside of China. It is a classical Chinese garden, which means that it replicates an urban garden style that came to prominence during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), when an educated class of scholars, poets, and government officials built walled house-and-garden compounds that were both retreats and private pleasure grounds. In 1999, 65 craftspeople from Suzhou, China (Portland’s sister city), came to construct the garden. The intricately detailed architectural components were made in China and shipped to Portland, along with 500 tons of specially chosen rock. The garden opened in 2000.

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This is not a Western-style garden where plants reign supreme. Instead, two-thirds of the enclosed garden space is comprised of ornate pavilions and halls grouped around a lake and connected by winding paths and zigzagging galleries. As you wend your way through the garden, visiting the ornate pavilions and admiring the constantly changing views, you’ll encounter a wonderfully diverse assortment of plants, including specimen trees, rare and unusual shrubs, and perennials. The chrysanthemum display in November is absolutely spectacular, but there is something of interest here year-round, and concerts and special events, too. To learn about the intricate symbolism in this garden, I’d recommend that you take one of the daily tours (usually held between 11am and 2pm, but check the website to confirm).

Tea in the Chinese Garden

Tea has been a part of Chinese life and culture for over a thousand years. Introduced first as medicine, tea later became associated with Taoist philosophy. Monks used tea to stay awake during long meditation sessions. By the time teahouses became popular, during the Ming dynasty, tea was firmly established as a social beverage, and serving tea had taken on its own elaborate etiquette. At the teahouse, located in the two-story Tower of Cosmic Reflections in the Lan Su Chinese Garden visitors sample authentic Chinese tea and teacakes while enjoying a view of the garden

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