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Garden Update: Why You May Notice Changes in the Water of the Strolling Pond Garden

The strolling pond garden in Portland Japanese Garden. From this perspective we see a wooden bridge (The Moon Bridge) and trees illuminated by sunshine.
The Strolling Pond Garden as seen in February 2024. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

This month, guests to Portland Japanese Garden may have noticed that rehabilitation in the Strolling Pond Garden is underway to help maintain a part of the landscape that has been a site of calmness and serenity for more than 60 years. The upper pond, itself the northernmost part of the Strolling Pond Garden and site of many recognizable features including the Peace Lantern and bronze cranes donated from the Bank of Tokyo, had been experiencing some leakage. Work on it was delayed by the ferocious winter storm that impacted all of the greater Portland area in January, but now progress is being steadily made with the hope that work will be completed in March.

The Strolling Pond Garden covered in ice and snow, aftermath of a ferocious winter storm in January 2024.
Days after the harshest weather of the January 2024 winter storm had subsided. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

In recent weeks, the water was drained and the leak repaired. Now, in February, the upper pond has been refilled with water so that its concrete can cure. Curing is a patient process that strengthens concrete and improves its durability by maintaining its moisture and temperature. Throughout the next few weeks, the upper pond will remain filled with water until it is drained again for sealant to be added in mid-March. After the sealant is added, the space will once again be filled with water—this process of drainage, sealant addition, and water refilling is estimated to take only a few days.

A pond with much of its water drained. It is the upper pond of the Strolling Pond Garden in Portland Japanese Garden.
When the upper pond of the Strolling Pond Garden was drained in early January 2024. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

What may be more noticeable than water fluctuations in the upper pond are those within the stream that connects this northern space to the lower pond, the site of the Heavenly Falls and the Garden’s beloved koi. To help ensure the health and safety of its colorful swimmers, water will not flow in the stream. This is being done out of an abundance of caution as the organization is looking to prevent construction contaminants from reaching the koi downstream. Eventually, the introduced elements will be diluted enough so as to alleviate concern. Water will then resume flowing.

  • A stream bed is shown as flowing water has been stopped while repairs are made in a pond north of it.
  • A stream bed is shown as flowing water has been stopped while repairs are made in a pond north of it.

This project is currently on track to be completed by the second half of March. While this process is underway, the Strolling Pond Garden will remain a site of picturesque views and peaceful surroundings. Guests may also begin to notice the stirring of life on Cherry Tree Hill—cherry blossoms are now only weeks away from returning. We are grateful for the understanding and patience of our community as we undergo this necessary work to help maintain Portland Japanese Garden’s beauty.

More About the Construction of the Strolling Pond Garden

The Strolling Pond Garden under construction in the 1960s. Photo by William “Robbie” Robinson.

Of the five historic gardens within Portland Japanese Garden, the Strolling Pond Garden is the largest, consisting of an upper and lower pond connected by a stream. Because of its artful design of carefully and intentionally placed stones and plantings, its water features have the feeling of something produced naturally over centuries. However, it is the site of adaptive reuse of land once under the management of the old Portland Zoo. In the 1960s, early Garden leadership and the Portland Parks and Recreation Bureau excavated soil and laid in cement in the form of the ponds and stream we enjoy today. Over time, it has increasingly looked naturalistic due to the dedicated fostering of successive generations of gardeners up to this day under the leadership of Garden Curator Hugo Torii (2021-).

  • People cutting the ribbon in a ceremony of the opening of a new wooden bridge in Portland Japanese Garden.
  • An older stepping stone footbridge in Portland Japanese Garden.
  • A walkway in Portland Japanese Garden made of granite as opposed to the old stepping stones.
  • Massive repairs being made to a human-made waterfall in Portland Japanese Garden.

Over the course of the seven decades it has existed, multiple changes have been made to the Strolling Pond Garden. This includes removing a step stone crossing of the stream near the Koto-ji lantern in favor of a more traversable granite walkway and replacing an older version of the Moon Bridge in 1991. Perhaps the single most notable change to its water features came in 1997 when damage from an ice storm necessitated the reconstruction of the Heavenly Falls. Under the supervision of former Garden Director Hoichi Kurisu (1968-73) and Curator Emeritus Sadafumi (Sada) Uchiyama, who also served as Garden Curator (2008-21), the waterfall’s concrete superstructure was completely rebuilt and 15 feet were added to its height.