Most of us Portlanders know about the Japanese Garden. It's up there in the West Hills in Washington Park, near the Rose Garden, Zoo, Hoyt Arboretum, and Pittock Mansion. It's a treasured place, high on the list of where to take out of town guests. But it's also one of those special places that perhaps you keep putting off actually going to. Or when you do go, you end up visiting with your guests more than actually looking around the place.

The Portland Japanese Garden is the sort of place that you could visit a thousand times and each time see something different. The paving patterns alone are a real world catalogue of the endlessly varying beauty that you can achieve with careful, restrained use of just a few materials.

To celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, the Garden will be holding even more special events than usual. (For instance, this week you still have time to catch the second half of a ten day run of daily events.) But it doesn't take a special event or anniversary to find a reason to visit the Japanese Garden. At a very practical level, it offers inspiration and lessons for one's home garden. And at this time of year, when most gardens are at perhaps their least inspiring point, inspiration is especially welcome.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be taking a series of trips to the Japanese Garden to learn more about it and what it has to offer (from classes to exhibits to gorgeous fence designs). This week, we walk through the garden with our heads down – that is, we'll focus especially on the amazing paving patterns used throughout. Of course, we can't keep our heads  down the entire time, because any experience of the Japanese Garden has to take in the whole, not just the parts, to appreciate the place.

Traditional Japanese gardens include two styles of stone path: tobi-ishi, or stepping stones, and nobedan, meaning "stone carpet." In September, the Garden will hold a two day workshop on how to build a nobedan stone pathway. Garden Curator Sadafumi Uchiyama will lead the workshop with Head Gardener Michael Kondo. (Reservations open August 27 for the September 21-22 session.)

The September workshop is a long way from now, though. In the meantime, we were lucky enough to get a special tour of paving from Uchiyama himself, accompanied by two of his gardening staff, Adam Hart and Desirae Williams. Click on the Slide Show button (above) to take the tour of paving and see what the gardening gurus help us notice on a winter day in Portland's Japanese Garden

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