Portland | Distilled

New and unknown destinations of all kinds always fuel my creative process, but I need time to put all of what I experience in perspective. When something is new it swirls around in my head and is exciting–like a new love affair.  As with any relationship, the test of time filters what is going to be longer lasting than that first heart stopping crush.

It’s been a month since my trip to Portland, Oregon to attend the APLD International Landscape Design Conference and it has taken me that long to process some of what I experienced there…so here goes…

One of my favorite quotes carved into stone at the Ecotrust Building
One of my favorite quotes carved into stone at the Ecotrust Building

Much has been written about Portland as being the greenest and most sustainable city in the United States and evidence of that commitment to a healthy planet is everywhere.  Portland’s citizens embrace an active outdoor lifestyle and even in the most urban core of the city, it is impossible to ignore the natural world that surrounds it and its influence on city life.

Outdoor Portland
Outdoor Portland

The landscape designers in Portland might protest, but the gardens I visited, for all of their genus loci,  seemed rooted in a similar philosophy to other types of  ‘natural’ gardens like those from the 18th century created by landscape gardeners like Capability Brown.  In those long ago and greatly celebrated gardens, the idea as I understand it, was to evoke an idealized vision of the natural landscape.

The water features below are extremely different stylistically.  All were inspired by the natural world and all were man made.  Each interpretaion is unique and evokes a respect for and awe of nature.   For me, a month later, this is the lingering idea..a river runs through it.

The koi pond at the Portland Japanese Garden
The lower pond at the Portland Japanese Garden
Lawerence Halprin's iconic Ira Keller Frountain
Lawrence Halprin's iconic Ira Keller Frountain
Snake pond at Michael Schultz and Will Goodman's garden
Snake pond at Michael Schultz and Will Goodman's garden

Postscript:  I thought originally that my next blog post about my trip would be  ‘Portland | Underfoot’ since there were so many interesting paving ideas there.  I’ve decided instead to publish that as an album on my Facebook Studio page instead.

8 thoughts on “Portland | Distilled

  1. I saw Portland for the first time last year at the GWA Symposium. It was so different climatically and stylistically that I still think about it. It’s interesting to read what you saw and felt.~~Dee

    Dee–Thanks for commenting. I hope we meet at this year’s GWA in Raleigh–it will be my first one. I’ve never been there either…

  2. Lovely thoughts in your blog, Susan. Again, one of your greatest gifts is your ability to enjoy similar objects of various styles, thereby not pigeionholing yourself as a designer but enabling you to be extraordinarily responsive to the needs and desires of your client.

    Although . . . the snake water feature gave me the heebeegeebees! (It’s just that I do not like snakes!)

  3. Susan, you’ve created a beautiful metaphor, if I’m using the term correctly (or stretching it somewhat): The images play off each other provocatively, engagingly, alluringly! I would love to talk ‘garden design’ with you in person one day.

    I would also have loved to have trotted along behind you & the APLD folks, sharing that itinerary and listening in to your conversations. The trip I put together for the following week was so very different than my previous time in Portland, when I visited a swath of public gardens as research for my book.
    Green walls, roofs and the Chinese Garden were quite a change – I’ve yet to distill my experiences.

    But I did feel the pulsating energy of the river which I believe you refer to, setting apart Portland in the mind’s eye.

    You mention tracking back, so I’ll note my July 29th post on Ira’s Fountain – it seems to relate to yours:


    Looking forward to your facebook album & always to your thoughtful, savvy tweets. Alice aka Bay Area Tendrils

    Alice–I’d be honored to talk ‘garden design’ with you any time! Thanks for the link to Ira’s Fountain–were there swimmers there the day you were there? Kids & young men were swimming the day we were there. It was cool the way the fountain was ‘used’

  4. There were quite a few children ‘frolicking’ in the water. Quite a sight!
    What a gift from the city to the people.
    BTW, I also saw a new fountain on a hot evening when it was teeming with kids, in the Pearl District – I believe it’s the Jamison Square Fountain. A shallow form, unlike Ira’s 😀

    I went to Jamison Square also in the Pearl–it was teaming with toddlers! Moms were on the lawn with their coffee, bigger kids climbing the ‘boulders’–Ecotrust is right across the street where the MacLean quote photo is from…

  5. Real Snakes? How cool is that? I was cleaning my dinky fountain today and trying to get it to make a decent splatter! I think it needs a door in the back where I can put in the rushing water sound CD! I love your take on Portland…. even better distilled!

    Not real snakes…bronze or copper w/green patina.

  6. Susan,
    Thank you for your thoughtful post.
    I especially enjoyed seeing Ira’s fountain.
    I still get a little bit miffed every time I hear that Lawrence Halprin ‘designed’ it.
    It in fact was designed by Angela Danadjieva.
    She was working at Halprin’s office at the time so of course his name goes on the bronze plaque.
    I love how she described her design process that relied on clay models rather than sketching on paper.
    Her environmental mitigation philosophy about how the water could be used to create an exciting energy within the park while at the same time close off the exciting energy of the adjoining city was brilliant.

    I wish Halprin stepped up to the plate, pushed his ego aside and gave the young newly immigrated Angela Danadijeva her well deserved recognition back in 1970.
    But for those who have worked under the helm of well known landscape architectural firms while putting in their board required hours, Angela Danadijeva will always be the true respected designer of Ira Kellers fountain.

    Ironically I love the engraved saying that lies in one of the concrete platforms , “Strength and Beauty come from Us- Not from Tyranny”.

    Thank you Michelle. Of course, like every other tourist I had no idea.

  7. Hey Susan and Michelle, I wrote the entry for Ira’s Fountain in the book,
    1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die …and the designer is listed as Angela Danadjieva! Halprin is mentioned of course, but in my research, Halprin always credited AD with the fountain’s design. It was his firm, and she was the associate he chose for the project.

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