Garden Writers Symposium
September, 2008

September 22nd

This morning was our Annual Business meeting during breakfast so that we were ready to attend our sessions on time, then be ready to leave on our story tours. Again we had lunch on the coach and the lunches were great. This symposium really tried to cut down on waste ... our hotel was a very responsible steward it self, and on the coaches we recycled our containers.

Respectful renovation is being undertaken at the 1.75 acre Bates Garden, just down the road from the Bishop’s Close. Susan Bates and her husband acquired the 1.75 acre site in 2002. The garden, developed during 60 years by Lady Anne Kerr McDonald and Sir James McDonald, began from 1940 plans by Lord and Schryver for the front and back terraces. The garden includes a grand upper parkland plus paths that wind down the hill. The hillside garden has been left natural with natives. Many magnolias, rhododendrons, peonies, roses, fuchsias and azaleas plus unusual trees and shrubs adorn the upper garden. Interesting trees include: Trochodendron behind the living room, Cunninghamia lanceolata on the north path, and Magnolia wilsonii with pendulous flowers on the south border. On the first path down, Rosa mutabilis displays wonderful colors. A wisteria at the east edge of the lawn has been trained as a tree. Susan has added many specialty plants and a path circling the upper garden. The area between the Acer griseum and the Ponderosa pine was grass, but it has become a shade garden. The Chilean Garden south of the house includes a palm tree and hibiscus that survive our Zone 8 winters. There are also a Taxodium distichum, the Swamp Cypress, large Lagerstroemia and espaliered Punica (Pomegranate). A new Sturdi-built greenhouse replaced an old greenhouse.

Susan strives to maintain the style of the garden. Editing in the garden includes replacing an arborvitae hedge with a Buxus hedge that will grow to 5 feet in time and adding a rock garden. Some specimens that were past their prime have been removed. Currently Jay Miner is the gardener (he was the gardener for the Jane Platt garden - Jane and Lady Anne were sisters). He is rearranging beds to add a more cohesive appearance, and Susan is developing a plant list.

Elk Rock Gardens of the Bishop’s Close was originally a 13-acre private estate garden (6 acres are in cultivation) that was donated to the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon with the agreement that the gardens would be open to the public. The gardens are English in style and designed by New York’s Olmsted and Sons.

Created to nurture and inspire, the Portland Classical Chinese Garden is an authentic Suzhou urban Garden, a style that dates to the 13th century Ming dynasty. Built completely from Suzhou materials by Suzhou artisans, it is one of the largest such gardens built outside China. The 40,000-square-foot walled Garden occupies a full city block and is designed to recreate a miniature landscape with mountains, lakes, and trees, along with their internal energy (qi), and to incorporate man’s place within nature. Serpentine walkways, a bridged lake and open colonnades set off a meticulously arranged landscape of plants, water, stone, poetry and buildings.

Nine pavilions offer places to rest and contemplate. Couplets of poetry speak to the interplay of nature. The design embodies the duality of nature, yin and yang. When these are balanced, as they are with water and stone, harmony results. Over 500 tons of Taihu rocks, mined from a lake near Suzhou, provide mountain peaks, which frame waterfalls and views in the garden. The rocks are prized for four virtues: holes that allow life force to flow freely, rough texture, slender shape, and heavy tops. Water, as the circulatory system of the earth, also brings vital energy to the Garden. The 8,000 sq. ft. Lake Zither reflects the changing effects of sun and clouds. Water dripping from roof tiles onto leaves provides a gentle ambience.

The plant collection includes 100 specimen trees, bamboo, water plants and orchids. Part of an extensive Osmanthus collection, the rare, treasured Osmanthus heterophyllus variegatus (Variegated holly leaf osmanthus) is nearly 100 years old and over 20 feet tall. Over twenty species of Rhododendron include the impressive Rhododendron sinogrande, a “tree” rhododendron with large, leathery, paddle-like leaves. Over fifteen species and a few rare cultivars of Magnolia include Magnolia delavayi which lends a lush, tropical feel. Fifteen species of Bamboo, highly valued by the Chinese for both pliability and strength, include Phyllostachys heterocycla f. pubescens (timber or moso bamboo), the world's largest hardy bamboo. Plants can grow over 46 inches a day and reach 90 feet tall with 7-inch diameter culms.

The tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) became China’s top ornamental flower during the Tang Dynasty (618-906), when horticulturists developed large, colorful blooms, cultivars were fiercely coveted and a tradition of peony-growing erupted throughout China. A few rare tree peonies came to the Garden directly from China. Orchids grow throughout this Garden of Awakening Orchids, including terrestrial orchids (Blettila striata), which are prized for elegant simplicity and ease of care. I have been to Suzhou a few times now and walking into this garden, felt as though I was transported back to China again. This beautiful garden is a self sustaining non profit.

Just down the hill, the International Rose Test Garden. This was spectacular with thousands and thousands of roses. The scent in some of the areas was heavenly. Founded in 1917, Portland’s International Rose Test Garden is the oldest official, continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States. Even as World War I was raging in Europe, hybridists sent roses from around the world to Portland’s garden for testing and to keep the new hybrids safe from being destroyed by the bombing in Europe. The garden currently houses almost 8,000 roses.

The primary purpose of the garden is to serve as a testing ground for new rose varieties and to show the public what is commercially available. To stay current with the newest roses on the market, a number of rose beds are changed out every year. The garden is one of 24 official testing sites for the internationally respected All-America Rose Selection (AARS) and is one of only six testing sites for the American Rose Society miniature rose test program. The terrace above the Shakespeare garden was originally planted in old garden roses. By 1959, so many City of Portland Gold Award roses had crept into the terrace that it became known as the Gold Award Garden and the old garden roses were moved to another area of the garden.

A popular spot within the garden is the Shakespearean Garden. Dedicated in 1945, this garden was originally designed to include only herbs, trees and flowers mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays, and it continues to honor the Bard with roses named after characters in his plays. The informal design features graceful trees, brick walks and hundreds of annuals and perennials besides roses. Over the years, this garden has been the site for hundreds of weddings. The Royal Rosarian Garden is home to a planting of a “namesake rose” honoring all past Prime Ministers of the Royal Rosarians. Many old favorites, which are no longer available in commerce, may be found here.

At the foot of the Rose Garden is the Queen’s Walk, which was established in 1952 to honor all past, present and future Queens of Portland’s Rose Festival. The Portland Rose Festival, Oregon’s premier civic celebration, has been a Northwest tradition since 1907. Trees and shrubs, some native to the Northwest, provide a backdrop for the display of roses.  and

Careful use of plants, stones, and water create areas of serene, quiet beauty and spots for meditation and contemplation in the Portland Japanese Garden. The Flat Garden, which encircles the hundred-floor-mat Pavilion hall, is the most formal garden. Evergreen foliage contrasts with white shirakawa sand raked in patterns to represent water. Views of three mountains, including Mt. Hood, use the technique of “borrowed scenery.” The seascape of sand and its prized plantings evoke the four seasons and complete, meditative balance. Two islands in the shapes of a sake cup and gourd connote spiritual and temporal pleasure.

The Strolling Pond Garden is the largest garden. In it, the Wisteria Arbor leads to the Garden's centerpiece, an antique five-tiered pagoda lantern from Sapporo, Portland’s Sister City in Japan. The Moon Bridge spans the serene Upper Pond where crane sculptures huddle at the shore. A creekside path leads to the Lower Pond, where the Zig Zag Bridge wanders through famed iris beds that bloom in June. Tortoise and crane stones, Japanese symbols of longevity rise from the pond, which houses koi that play beneath the rushing Heavenly Falls. Two small gardens lead to the ceremonial Tea House, where subtle plantings add to the calming ritual of tea. Each plant, water feature, and stepping stone is chosen to make the Tea Ceremony harmonious and precise. In the Natural Garden, ponds, waterfalls, and streams meander under tiny bridges, and trees, shrubs, ferns, and mosses grow in their natural state. In many ways, the Natural Garden, symbolic of the spiritual journey of life, is the most intimate of the five Gardens. The Sand and Stone Garden, the most abstract Japanese garden form, typically found in Zen monasteries, reveals the stark simplicity of weathered stones rising from a sea of raked sand. Important plants in the gardens include: Pinus thunbergii (Japanese Black Pine), Pinus densiflora (Japanese Red Pine), Pinus contorta (Northwest Shore Pine), Acer palmatum (several genera of Japanese Maple), Pieris japonica, Camellia japonica and C. sasanqua, Cornus florida and C. kousa (Dogwood) and Prunus serrulata, P. speciosa, P. subhirtella (Flowering Cherry) and numerous species rhododendrons and azaleas.

From these visits we went directly to the GWA Awards Banquet at the Oregon Zoo. The Portland Zoo is known for its environmentalism, wonderful habitats, and exquisite plants. We were the only ones at the zoo by the time we arrived. It was pretty quiet as all the animals were settled in for the evening, but we did get to see a beautiful baby elephant and that was a wonderful experience. The zoo’s horticultural mission – plants grown in and around exhibits to approximate the native habitats of resident animals and along cliffs and overhangs to screen and focus the views of visitors was noticed as well. After the visit, we had a wonderful dinner at the zoo followed by the Garden Media Awards presentation.

Then it was back to the hotel to pack and get ready to leave the next morning for me but there were post symposium workshops and tours that people could take if they wanted.

Thank you Portland! It was an incredible experience. You worked very hard and it showed. Thank you to all the sponsors of the meals, bags, water and refillable water bottles, coffee breaks. Thanks for the great weather, the great camaraderie and the great sights that we saw. See you next year in Raleigh, NC!


  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row