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Japanese Gardens..

—add another must-see to your list!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

January 9, 2005

Above, the Flat Garden, Sand and Stone Garden (typically found in Zen monasteries) and 5-tiered stone pagoda lantern (given to Portland by its Sister City, Sapporo, Japan; the stones at the base of the Pagoda are in the shape of the island of Hokkaido, with Sapporo designated by a red stone). Below, the waterfall into the Strolling Pond Garden (chisen-kaiyu-shiki) and an early Viburnum just beginning to bloom. At bottom, Mount St. Helens is still sending off ‘smoke signals’ and this is how we witnessed it on December 18 at about 4:20 PM. Author photos.

This first column for 2005 is being written, initially at least, aboard the BC Ferries ship ‘Spirit of Alberni’. It is late at night and other than for transport truck drivers with their portable DVD players, the ship is empty. We left Canada following my December 18th programme, and are just returning now on January 6. We have visited gardens and nurseries in: Portland, Oregon, San Francisco (the Conservatory of Flowers which just re-opened in 2003 after many years of closure due to destruction from a windstorm, and about which. more in the near future), Santa Barbara (one of the largest orchid growers in the US is located in nearby Carpenteria), Las Vegas (yes, no gambling, just looking at horticulture!), Palm Springs (where Mooreton, a private botanical garden was of great interest), Los Angeles (there’s never enough time there particularly due to the long driving distances), and Sacramento (where I managed some interesting shots of topiary).

In my opinion, the most interesting garden was the first one we viewed, the Japanese Garden of Portland, Oregon. It is operated by the Japanese Garden Society of Oregon, which was formed in the early 60s.

Just prior to that, in 1958, Sapporo, Japan and Portland, Oregon became sister cities and the Mayor at the time, along with several members of the business community thought it would be appropriate to have an authentic, traditional Japanese garden.

The garden was designed and its development supervised by Professor Takuma Tono, then head of the Landscape Architecture department of the Tokyo Agricultural University. The professor began landscaping the garden in 1963, and it opened formally for the 1967 summer season. It is open all but three days each year. Almost 140,000 tourists and city residents visit the garden annually.

Even in the middle of winter when we visited (on December 19), the 2.2 hectare (5.5 acre) garden is a showplace, and when one checks the numerous flowering trees and shrubs, it is not difficult to realize that it must be a showpiece, especially in spring.

There are countless testimonials about the beauty of the garden, but perhaps the best quote is that of His Excellency Kunihiko Saito, Ambassador from Japan to the United States, who at the 35th anniversary celebration in 1997, exclaimed over the beauty and commented on its authenticity, saying, “I believe this Garden to be the most authentic Japanese Garden including those in Japan.”

Just a few of the photos I took last month are included here; and from the standpoint of what stood out the most for me in mid-winter, I think it was the Flat Garden (hira-niwa). The Strolling Pond Garden (chisen-kaiyu-shiki) too, though lacking bloom, is outstanding. If you are travelling to the West Coast at all in the near future, a trip to Portland, Oregon to visit the Japanese Garden, and the adjacent Rose Garden (arguably one of the best public rose gardens in the US), as well as “The Oregon Garden” a newer garden in Silverton, near the capital, Salem, are highly recommended!

While writing about Japanese gardens, I cannot leave out some of the outstanding ones to be seen here in Canada. The newest would be that within le Jardin botanique de Montréal, which my old friend Pierre Bourque secured during his tenure as head of the garden and the city’s parks module. He was later to become Mayor for two terms. That garden is truly authentic and the last time I saw it about five years ago, still very well maintained. If you go in the spring, be sure to check if the Wisteria is in bloom (yes in Montréal!).

The next oldest would be Nikka Yuko in Lethbridge, Alberta, built as a Centennial project, and opening in 1967. A good horticulturist and friend, parksman Bill Brown, who headed the parks department there worked hard, along with the local Japanese community to make it happen.

Located within Henderson Lake Park just east off the start of Highway 4, Nikka Yuko includes a stroll garden, stone garden, and Cultural Centre representing the Tea Room and Japanese home styles. Lethbridge still had (and has) a Japanese community as remnants of Japanese internees brought from B.C. to work sugar beet farms in the area during the Second World War. The 1.6 hectare (4-acre) garden was designed by Kubo Tadashi and his assistant Sugimoto Masami, landscape architects from Osaka University.

I saw Nikka Yuko again less than a decade ago, and it still looked very good.

No doubt Canada’s oldest Japanese garden is the Nitobe Memorial Garden, within the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden. I first visited it in 1962 and have been there in the 70s and 80s as well as recently. It is absolutely superb! It honours Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933) whose goal was "to become a bridge across the Pacific." Among many other memorials to him is his portrait on Japan’s 5000 yen note. Considered to be the best traditional, authentic Japanese Tea and Stroll Garden in North America and among the top five Japanese gardens outside Japan, the Nitobe Garden includes a rare authentic Tea Garden with a ceremonial Tea House. Nitobe (at one hectare--2.4 acres) is just slightly less than half the size of the Portland garden. But if you have not visited it, don’t let size govern your decision. It is a wonderful garden and open 12 months per year.

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