shinrin-yoku | “forest bathing”
A short, leisurely trip into a forest or natural space to experience the restorative effects of spending time in the stillness of nature.
I came across this term while researching the Portland Japanese Garden, and understood the meaning immediately. To me it’s that moment when you breathe in the fresh woodsy air, and can’t see houses or hear cars on the road anymore. I’ve experienced this as nearby as the hike & bike trail in my town (once you pass the part next to the highway of course), and as that first step out of the car after a road trip out of the city/suburbs.
I had an expectation of Portland as a ‘hippie-paradise’, but it was a lot more a standard city, in my opinion. (Not that I didn’t appreciate the convenience of Whole Foods & Starbucks as many of the quirky chain stores were closed for the holiday weekend.) If you’re looking for hippie-paradise, by the way, just travel south of Portland a few hours to the city of Eugene.
A short and inexpensive ride on the light rail brings you directly from the city center to the perfect forest-bathing spot – Washington Park. Washington Park encompasses many attractions – the Portland Zoo, the Portland Children’s Museum, and the Hoyt Arboretum among them. Being a garden junkie, I opted for the Portland Japanese Garden and International Rose Test Garden. (I did make a brief stop at the zoo to check out an adorable baby polar bear named Nora.)
First stop: Portland Japanese Garden
This garden was meticulous and formal, and you can immediately sense the authenticity and thought that went into every inch of the place. You pay an admission fee and follow a winding path that leads you to all areas of the garden.
From their site:
The Garden sits nestled in the West Hills of Portland, Oregon overlooking the city and providing a tranquil, urban oasis for locals and travelers alike. Designed in 1963, it encompasses 12 acres with eight separate garden styles, and includes an authentic Japanese Tea House, meandering streams, intimate walkways, and a spectacular view of Mt. Hood. This is a place to discard worldly thoughts and concerns and see oneself as a small but integral part of the universe.
The strolling pond garden is the first stop on the path, and the most impressive.
The largest garden, the Strolling Pond Garden consists of Upper and Lower Ponds connected by a flowing stream. The Upper Pond features the iconic Moon Bridge, while the Lower Pond has a Zig-Zag bridge which weaves through beds of Japanese iris against the backdrop of the stunning Heavenly Falls.
My next favorite place was the Natural Garden. Although you are supposed to ‘stay on path’…this grass was a little to inviting to a lot of visitors.
This garden focuses primarily on deciduous plants and is laid out to present seasonal change. From the budding new leaves of spring to the coolness of summer shade. From the changing colors of autumn to the naked trees of winter. The denseness of the trees and shrubs here evoke a wildness not see elsewhere in the Garden.
Next stop: International Rose Test Garden
The next stop requires a little bit of a caveat – did you know most roses don’t bloom until June? I was hoping they would miraculously have bloomed early due to my visit (and global warming), but alas I didn’t get to see the International Rose Test Garden in full glory.
The International Rose Test Garden is the oldest, officially operated public rose test garden in the United States. The ‘Test’ part comes from the fact that the garden is a testing ground for new rose varieties. Unlike the Japanese Garden, this is open to the public for free and has a casual vibe, with people bringing picnics along.
The Queens Walk is a brick walkway at the side of the garden with a bronze star honoring each Rose Festival queen.
There is also a test garden for miniature roses – luckily these are early bloomers.
Hope you enjoyed this field trip! If it inspired you to do some ‘forest-bathing’ of your own – great! Also, if you ever go to Portland, in my experience its warm and sunny 100% of the time.
Bonus baby polar bear if you’ve read this far – at the Portland Zoo.