This Is The Tree.
I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and spent the majority of my life there. In 2008, when I picked up my first camera, I began looking for places inside the city that I could photograph and stumbled across an out of focus, dreamy interpretation of this tree by a fellow photographer named Zeb Andrews. Those of us who lived in Portland at the time were photographing this tree long before Peter Lik ever did. I have returned every year since then, capturing the tree in all four seasons.
In the city of Portland, Oregon there is a world-famous Japanese Maple tree, located just inside the gates of the Portland Japanese Garden just waiting to capture your spirit and imagination. When you visit the garden and see this tree in person, or view beautiful photographs like the ones I share with you below, you may fantasize about the magic of this tree and the story of where it came from. It is difficult not to envision a small world of fairies or other mythical creatures creating homes here, built from the small ferns that surround it, scavenging the “forest” for mushrooms and other edibles. In reality, this glorious Japanese Maple that helps draw over a quarter million visitors each year to the garden, may have much more humble beginnings than you may think.
History of the Garden
In 1958, Portland became a sister city to Sapporo, Japan, helping to create a broad interest in Japanese culture. Soon after, several business leaders and the Mayor of Portland decided it would be wonderful for Portland to have a traditional Japanese Garden. On June 4th, 1962, the City Council created a commission to establish the garden on the site of the former Washington Park Zoo. The Japanese Garden Society of Oregon was formed in 1963 by Portland citizens interested in promoting a more intimate relationship between the Peoples of Japan and our city and state. Takuma Tono, a Tokyo Agricultural University professor and internationally recognized authority on Japanese landscape design, was commissioned to design and supervise the development of the garden and he began landscaping the garden that year. In the summer of 1967, the Portland Japanese Garden formally opened to the public. The 5.5-acre Japanese garden is composed of five separate gardens: Strolling Pond Garden, Tea Garden, Natural Garden, Flat Garden, and Sand and Stone Garden.
This beautiful Japanese Maple tree that so many have grown to love, was not an original planting in the garden. No one is 100% sure of exactly when it was planted, or where it came from. Speaking to Adam Hart, Senior Gardener of the garden, after looking through historical photographs, I was told that this lace-leaf maple was most likely planted sometime around 1971 and is between 65-70 years old. According to Mr. Hart, the tree was not very impressive when it was first planted, so there aren’t many photographs of it from those early days and the photographs he could find showed a fairly small and unspectacular specimen. The origin of the tree is also a mystery, but many of the lace-leaf maples were donated from people in the community and while we are not sure that this was the case, you can see other spectacular lace-leaf maples in the yards of beautiful homes along the road leading to the garden.