A New Public Bonsai Display: Portland Japanese Garden

This has been a very special project to be a part of. It’s hard to find a more beautiful, peaceful place, for one thing. The Portland Japanese Garden is one of the most stunning and iconic gardens outside of Japan, with its setting in a hillside forest of Doug Fir and a view of Mt. Hood. It was sited on an old zoo, and gardeners tell me stories of digging around and uncovering the zoo roads and paths.

This week the Garden completed an ambitious 10 year plan of CEO Stephen Bloom, with the unveiling of its $35 million Cultural Crossing center. Its three buildings were designed by Japanese architect Kenga Kuma, his first public design in America. His intention of the buildings to be a ‘cap to the earth’ seems to be realized in the quiet living roof structures.

The purpose of the Cultural Village is to offer study of the Japanese aesthetic arts at the deepest level desired. Tea, garden, ikebana, dance, and bonsai will all be offered there, in various ways. The only new garden in the expansion is the Ellie Hill Bonsai Terrace, designed by the Garden Curator, Sadafumi Uchiyama, and I was honored to help source trees for it.

For the initial display I chose trees that were intended to fill as many spots in the bonsai lexicon as possible, on loan from 9 local bonsai artists. The display will rotate frequently to allow returning visitors new experiences in bonsai styles, species, and seasonality.

Enjoy this photo ‘taster’ of the new expansion—and if you’re traipsing through Portland, definitely don’t miss a visit, the feeling of the space created by Kuma’s architecture is sublime-

🤞Sign up for the blog!

We don’t spam! Read more in our privacy policy


  1. Russell Cook says:

    That looks amazing! I was in Portland last April, investigating whether it was the right place for me. I fell in love with the city and the Japanese garden was stunning. I will be traveling back often looking for the right side to live on. Out of curiosity, what month would you say is the best to visit the garden in full bloom? Also, as a moderate level bonsai enthusiast, which nurseries would you recommend visiting while I’m there?

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. anijhuis says:


  3. diane says:

    I was at the garden on April 1st. Such a new beautiful addition to the garden (and wonderful cultural entertainment that day). So glad there is now a bonsai feature. They are fabulous! Looking forward to visiting during the seasons and having tea in the Umami cafe to enjoy the views (another great addition).

  4. Ray says:

    Really well done Michael. Beautiful spot.

  5. jnackley says:

    The space is transformed from my previous visit. How beautiful!

  6. Janet Roth says:

    The Japanese Garden in Portland is really wonderful – it’s the only one I’ve ever seen outside Japan that was truly good imo. And it looks like you’ve created a bonsai garden in keeping with that excellence. Many congratulations Michael !

  7. John Gilbert says:

    looks a very impressive facility

  8. johnny cheeseburger says:


  9. David Wheeler says:

    What a wonderful display of your work…..and I will be ‘watching over it’ for several afternoon shifts! Dave Wheeler

    On Sun, Apr 9, 2017 at 9:58 AM, Michael Hagedorn wrote:

    > crataegus posted: “This has been a very special project to be a part of. > It’s hard to find a more beautiful, peaceful place, for one thing. The > Portland Japanese Garden is one of the most stunning and iconic gardens > outside of Japan, with its setting in a hillside forest of” >

  10. Daniel Dolan says:

    Overall wonderful……any idea why several of the display benches and individual stands are set to fairly low elevations?
    One in particular, appears to be set a knee height.

    D/D Chicago

    • crataegus says:

      Yes, for small trees or accents something in the 26-28″ range is not out of the question. If you have a chance to look at the video Oscar Jonker made of Shinji Suzuki’s garden, or the Bonsai Fundamentals Course, you will see some short tables. Usually it’s only one. Just for texture. For the most part, posts should be 30-36″ tall, for most tree applications.

  11. Hans says:

    Hi Michael, Love your very informative and interesting posts on bonsai. Always look forward to your E-mails. I have a question I’m hoping you could answer for me. I have a mountain hemlock whose needles are gradually become more pale green than normal. The tree is healthy enough but it resides on our sunny south facing apartment balcony.

    Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

    Hans Breuer (Vancouver BC)

    Sent from my iPad


    • crataegus says:

      There are several possibilities…One thing I’ve noticed is that if you don’t fertilize a little bit in the spring as the shoots are extending the hemlocks can get yellowish. They don’t have enough nitrogen to do what they need to do. You may also wish to check the pH of your water. Hemlock won’t tolerate an alkaline pH of more than 7.5 for very long, and will go yellow. Municipal water sources are often alkaline. Finally it could be a root problem.
      Those are the top three off the top of my head-
      If you live in Vancouver, too much sun isn’t going to be much of a possibility, but that’s another way a tree could go yellow.

Leave a Reply to crataegusCancel reply