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Icy Cherry Blossoms: Surprise Spring Snowstorm Hits Portland Japanese Garden

The weeping cherry in the Flat Garden after a surprise snow storm in April 2022. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

Just a few days after unseasonably summer-like weather in early spring, a winter storm stunned Portlanders with several inches of snow on April 11. According to Savannah Eadens with The Oregonian, it was the latest date Portland “has seen winter weather in at least 80 years.” Multiple school districts closed for the day, highways and roads were either shut down or backed up, and thousands lost power. At a higher elevation than much of its home city, Portland Japanese Garden too had to deal with the ramifications of springtime snow.

A fallen tree in the Natural Garden. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.
A fallen tree in the Natural Garden. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

Garden Curator, Hugo Torii notes that he and his team of gardeners had been closely tracking the forecast and knew snow was on its way, though there were limits to what could be done ahead of time. With several trees growing leaves, branches could now hold more snow than they could bear to keep aloft, resulting in several limbs snapping and falling groundward. “There is not much we can do to prepare for such incidents, but we are ready to rebuild and improve upon the damage that was done,” Torii noted.

  • Fallen tree branches in the Entry Garden after a surprise snow storm in April 2022. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

Given the unstable tree limbs, the gardening staff took it upon themselves to heighten their awareness of their surroundings. “We looked for abnormalities in the garden, including hanging branches and trees about to fall or break, loose and slippery ground, and changes of weather,” Torii added. When conditions improved, Portland Japanese Garden staff members joined the gardeners to help clean up. The snow may have left some scars behind, but the dedication of staff from different departments helped place the landscape in a position to heal.

Snow on the moss near the Sapporo Pagoda Lantern in the Strolling Pond Garden. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.
Snow on the moss near the Sapporo Pagoda Lantern in the Strolling Pond Garden. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.

Looking ahead, Torii noted that the gardening staff has discussed utilizing different pruning techniques that have been historically used for pine trees in snow-capped regions of Japan. They will also continue to explore other preventative measures to mitigate future snow damage. While one hopes that future snowy weather will keep to the confines of winter months, it’s not impossible we will see cherry blossoms with snow again. Torii notes that while this was a first for him in the United States, he did encounter such a sight in his native Japan over 15 years ago. “We had to clean up snow with excavators and loaders,” he recalled.

Snow on Cherry Tree Hill in the Strolling Pond Garden. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.
Snow on Cherry Tree Hill in the Strolling Pond Garden. Photo by Portland Japanese Garden.