July 30, 2011

USA: Rockford's Japanese gardens an oasis of tranquility

TOKYO, Japan / The Japan Times / AP / July 30, 2011
The Pond Strolling garden at the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Illinois.
Jeffrey Anderson/AP

ROCKFORD, Illinois -

Japanese gardens are about inspiring and soothing the soul. And you don't have to be a gardening expert or Zen Buddhist to appreciate all they have to offer — the beauty, the tranquility, even the Zen.

Anderson Japanese Gardens, a 4.8-hectare wonderland of landscaping and design, is regarded as one of the top Japanese gardens in North America, along with ones in Portland, Oregon, and Delray Beach, Florida.

Almost every day, diverse groups of visitors can be seen strolling through the site: hospice patients, cancer survivors, people practicing yoga and tai chi, brush painting classes, Red Hat women, grief counselors, church congregations holding services and just plain tourists.

Reflecting a design that originated in 12th-century Japan, the gardens contain a large pond, a five-story waterfall, a granite pagoda, curving bridges over boulder-strewn streams, and well-manicured plants and trees leaning toward the water. They attract about 40,000 visitors a year in Rockford, Illinois, 130 km northwest of Chicago.

"It's a great space to cast away a lot of the baggage of the modern world and tune back into something more elemental," said curator Tim Gruner.

The gardens were the inspiration of industrialist John Anderson (no relation to the 1980 independent presidential candidate from Rockford with the same name).

During a business trip to Oregon in 1977, Anderson visited the Portland Japanese Garden on a cab driver's recommendation, and was so impressed by its calm and serenity that he decided to create his own version. He invited the garden's highly regarded Japanese landscape architect, Hoichi Kurisu, to Rockford and asked him to design a garden around a swampy pond next to his new hillside house.

Construction began the following year, with Kurisu remaining faithful to the style and methods used in the Kamakura Period, for manmade structures as well as the dozens of natural features. An authentic Japanese guesthouse, tea house and gazebo were built by a traditional craftsman using just files, chisels and hammers.

The gardens were opened to the public in 1998 when the Andersons turned them over to a foundation.

John Anderson, 69, recently handed off the chief executive's duties to his son, David, but remains actively involved. Kurisu, too, still visits periodically to provide guidance.

David Anderson, 40, first got to know the gardens as a "pretty cool" place to grow up next to, riding his bike, playing hockey and fishing there. Now his goals are to add a children's garden, carry out a shoreline restoration and overcome patrons' disappointment at the closure of the popular onsite restaurant, which he said had become a distraction.

The gardens are costly to maintain and unprofitable, he said, breaking even only with several hundred thousand dollars in annual contributions from his father.

This landscaping marvel shows no outward sign of financial challenges, however.

Prune, lean, let creek run through it


The gardens embody three essential elements of Japanese gardening: the permanence of stone; plants for texture and color; and the soothing, reflective qualities of water. Even the most basic of backyard gardeners can take home ideas on how to use those elements themselves.

With input from curator Tim Gruner, here are some tips to help create the feel of a Japanese garden:

Prune heavily: Pruning keeps plants in proper scale for their space. It also makes your garden more interesting if you can see through to the other side.

Lean your plants: Lean plants in to a focal point, whether it's a waterfall or your front door.

Incorporate water features: The sound of running water creates interest in a garden. It also attracts frogs, dragonflies and birds bathing and preening.

Use big rocks: Go with the biggest rocks you can afford, handle and move. You can also use rocks to change the flow if you have a water feature.

Copyright: The Japan Times
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