Portland Japanese Garden in November with fall foliage on display

Portland's Best Green Spaces & Gardens

16 April 2018

Oregon’s largest city is a renowned eco-friendly destination, so it’s no surprise that Portland boasts an abundance of parks and green spaces within its city limits – over 200 at last count. In fact, Portland was ranked number one on a list of ‘America’s Greenest Cities’ in the May 2015 issue of Travel + Leisure. What might surprise you is just how close the city is to stunning natural beauty (the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood are only 30 minutes’ drive and 2.5 hours’ drive, respectively, from Portland).

In the city, there’s plenty of opportunities to commune with nature and enjoy Portland’s green scene, too. Here’s some of the highlights:

Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden in November with fall foliage on display Fall foliage fires up the landscape of the Portland Japanese Garden. (Image: Cassandra Laffey)

I visited the achingly beautiful Portland Japanese Garden (said to be the most authentic rendition outside Japan) in November, when the fall foliage painted autumnal colours across the 2.2ha area. The fire-red Japanese maples in particular cut a vivid swathe across the hilly greenery at this time, but the great thing about this cultivated garden (with five different garden styles) is that it’s a different experience in each season ­ – many locals purchase yearly membership for this reason. Travellers will be equally at peace wandering the winding paths, crossing the bubbling streams on wooden bridges and spying raked stone gardens, cascading waterfalls and a koi pond.

International Rose Test Garden

Aerial view of people in Portland's International Rose Test Garden Visit the International Rose Test Garden in season for the full blooming effect. (Image: Travel Portland)

Located just below the Portland Japanese Garden in the expansive Washington Park, more than 590 varieties of roses bloom at Portland’s International Rose Test Garden, which has earned the city one of its many monikers: Rose City. Visit here during the peak season from May to September to witness the 8,000 rose bushes in full perfumed bloom across the 1.8ha garden. History buffs will be interested to know that America’s oldest rose test garden was established in 1917 to protect European hybrids during World War I. Take home a scented souvenir – many local artisans use ground rosebuds or rosehips to create one-of-kind soaps, candles and even rose tea.

Lan Su Chinese Garden

Portland's Lan Su Chinese Garden lake in November with autumn leaves and a boat Chinese garden styles from the Ming Dynasty are elegant and harmonious in Portland's Chinatown. (Image: Cassandra Laffey)

In direct contrast to the abundant wild beauty of the Portland Japanese Garden, Lan Su Chinese Garden is elegantly restrained and harmonious, showcasing a 16th-century Ming dynasty garden as it might have belonged to Chinese nobility. Each element is delicately balanced and created by artisans from Portland’s sister city in China, Suzhou. Follow the path to wooden pavilions, paved stone courtyards, a mirrored lake and walled gardens.  Rooms feature Chinese traditions through fortunes, artworks and the popular Teahouse. It’s incredibly tranquil and I even spotted an elusive squirrel scampering across a tiered, tiled roof, which marred the quiet but highlighted this natural oasis hidden in the Chinatown area.

North Park Blocks & South Park Blocks

South Park Blocks add greenery to Downtown Portland The South Park Blocks create a corridor of greenery in Downtown Portland. (Image: Travel Portland)

Connecting Downtown, Old Town and the Pearl District, the historic North Park Blocks creates a narrow ribbon down five city blocks, pointed out to me as a local highlight by my Uber driver, Douglas. Wedged between SW Ankeny and NW Glisan streets, the city park is dotted with tall trees, grassy strips and the old style of lampposts that abound in Old Town (as well as assorted local characters). An array of art also adds a focal point – there’s the stacked replica bronze Shang dynasty elephant statues and the Dog Bowl sculpture, as well as children’s playgrounds.

Along SW Park Avenue from Salmon to Jackson streets is the South Park Blocks in Downtown Portland. The city’s first parks are bordered by many museums and art galleries, including the Portland Art Museum and Portland’s Centers for the Arts.

Mill Ends Park

No Portland list is without a dose of quirk ­– this is a city that takes the tagline “Keep Portland Weird” to heart, after all – so I have to mention Mill Ends Park at SW Naito Parkway near Taylor Street. At just 61cm in diameter (it’s really more exact to call it a concrete planter on a median strip), nevertheless it’s officially the world’s smallest dedicated park, and adorably, also the only leprechaun colony outside Ireland. Fittingly it was officially dubbed a city park on St Patrick’s Day in 1976 and has enjoyed a variety of themed festivals and events within its petite park boundaries over the years.

Feature image: Portland Japanese Garden in autumn (Image: Cassandra Laffey)

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Cassandra Laffey

Consumed with unrequited wanderlust, I get my fix in 24/7 cities and hippie retreats. I'm still looking for the ultimate combo of secluded beach and major metropolis, and my happy place is a 5-star hotel room all to myself - sigh.