Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Exquisite Rush of Cascading Water - Ira Keller Fountain, Multnomah Falls

Ira Keller Fountain - Portland, Oregon
Water is precious. As thoughtful citizens of the world, we're engaged in a dialogue about conservation and climate change. Gardeners especially must reassess aspects of water usage.

Ira's Fountain

Dedicated by Portland to Ira C. Keller  - "Strength and Beauty Come From Us - Not From Tyranny"

Columbia River Gorge

Yet the compelling lure of rushing water has a profound effect on our sensibilities. 

In nature, we gasp at the beauty of a waterfall.

Multnomah Falls, Oregon
In Portland - a city of fountains - the Ira Keller fountain reprises, in all its contemporary angularity, the wondrous power of the natural world, encountered an hour or so outside the urban environment.

I wrote about the Keller Park fountain in the book, 1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die.
Landscape architect Lawrence Halprin designed the spectacular setting: Associate Angela Danadjieva, designer of the interactive water feature, achieved her goal of providing access to water so that people might revel in its sensory pleasures.
Once again I seem to be posing the question:  
What is a Garden?

A note: While photographing the fountain, I spoke with a gardener from Portland Parks, and learned about the city's newest fountain; under construction near Burnside at Waterfront Park.   More to follow....


  1. I love both of the water features you show, natural and human-made. (Ira's Fountain reminds me a lot of Halpern's Freeway Park is Seattle.) I continue to be amazed at how liquid water can morphs so quickly from something quiet and transparent to a material that's kinetic and seemingly solid.

    So, are these gardens? Good question. Are the falls not, because they're naturally occurring? But then doesn't building the bridge in front of them suddenly impose a human presence that selects and frames the view, something that transforms the Columbia River wilderness into a garden setting? Is it a garden because we say it is?

  2. James, I appreciate your thoughtful musings. Water features are surely integral elements in garden design. The falls qualify in my mind as a gardenscape: Surrounded by natural vegetation, with bridge & pathways added to take in the setting.

    The Keller Fountain: Its impact is compelling in many ways. For instance, the photos give a sense of how the tree branches gracefully drape along the perimeter where I stood to photograph. The evergreen plantings add to the cooling effect of the plaza / park on a summer day.
    The interactive aspect can't be stressed enough. Within a bustling area of the city, one escapes the traffic noise and flow of people on the sidewalks to be swept away by the lull of rushing water. All the senses are engaged.
    I could go on, but I'll stop there. Others may wish to chime in.... Alice

  3. The Keller fountain is an icon of great mid-century/modernist design. When I first saw it a few weeks ago at first I swooned and I was enthralled by the amount of people IN the fountain at lunch time. It's not often we are allowed to interact so freely with our icons! As for the gorge--my first trip too and it was inspiring to say the least. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas on these two not so different 'gardens'...

  4. Susan,
    You voice my experience precisely. People IN a fountain! And all over Portland fountains have been designed for people to enjoy in the most direct ways.
    I, too, swooned! Needless to say, I believe the Keller Fountain is deservedly included in '1001 Gardens.'

  5. LOL, Hi Alice. I feature this falls in my blog, too.I had visitors up who I took on a tour that resembles yours to a T. Ira's Fountain has dazzled me from the first time I saw it. I made my driver stop immediately to try and ascertain if I was seeing things or not - as we first explored Portland, years ago. What may be the more remarkable aspect of this gorgeous falls is the Japanese Black Pines they stud the most hostile concrete environment with - softening the effect and making it far, far more a "garden" than would be the case without it. In this sense, the falls themselves do indeed remind us of "Natural laws" - which gardens also do. So I would say the Ira Keller Fountain is every bit a garden.

  6. People IN a fountain! - you said it well Alice. I was raised that you didn't do such things, only children did. The first time I saw the Keller Fountain and saw adults behaving in such a away I thought it was odd to say the least, but I have gotten over it.

    I wonder...will you show us pictures from your visit to Sean Hogan's garden? Pretty please...

  7. Steve,
    thank you for adding to the dialogue. I visited so many wonderful gardens in Portland 10 years ago while writing my first book, yet this trip was filled with eye-opening vistas, and a different realm of experiences - including the Classical Chinese Garden, which you know so intimately!

    Growing up in Chicago, Buckingham Fountain on the lakefront is revered; a part of the city's heritage. Seeing it lit up on a summer night signaled for passersby to stand in awe.
    These days, an interactive water feature/major art installation in Millennium Park combines the best aspects of a museum (outdoors) & a perfect place to frolic. It's surely more fun to be around the center of these two cities - Portland & Chicago - now!

    I'll soon be posting on Sean's garden and the nursery. Many photos to sort through, but that's a good thing. Magnificent flora: need I say more `-)

  8. I ditto Danger Garden's request. And while you're at it, Alice, if you wouldn't mind, drive east out to Scappoose and see Joy Creek Nursery's gardens. ... The four court fountain in downtown Portland was years ago my intro to the interactive possibilities with [man made] moving water. Actually I thought everybody got in the water... You mean they don't?

    Are you here now, Alice? With this horrid heat wave? How rude of us not to entertain you with more hospitable weather.

  9. Grace
    I've had the pleasure of visiting and writing about Joy Creek & their lovely demonstration gardens, although I didn't get there on this trip :(
    I'm home, and hate to say it, but our weather has been perfect. I'm sure the heat wave will hit one of these days, but so far, it's breezy, sunny and mild temps. I thought it was hot last week in Portland, but it was only a sign of what was ahead!

    The crazy weather patterns are really quite scary, don't you think?

    Now who will guide me through the great nurseries of the Willamette Valley?? And wineries :~)