Some of our readers have asked for a little detail on our railroad adventure: what lines we rode, what the stations were like, how was the food and who got the upper berth.
There is no way my husband and I could have made this trip from Atlanta to the San Francisco Bay area if it were not for Amtrak. The same trip by air would have been prohibitively expensive and not nearly as enjoyable.
Everywhere we went, we reveled in the anxiety-free wonder of looking out large windows at the cityscapes and countryside. It’s no wonder that the Amtrak motto is “Change the Way You See the World.”
On the wall of the Grand Junction, Colorado, station is a small sampling of Amtrak posters offering guided train tours.
On every train, we found engaging and delightful conversation with a wide range of fellow travelers from Switzerland, Canada, China, Australia, Holland, France, and so many states that I’ve lost count. Families were traveling with their children and grandchildren. Businesspeople were going to work or coming home from conferences. Young couples were honeymooning, older couples were celebrating wedding anniversaries. All in all a wonderful mix.
Our first train station in Atlanta, Georgia, still had the comfortable old style curved wooden benches with tall globe lamps.
Baggage allotment is similar to that of airplanes in size and weight of luggage to be checked — and we had to do some quick switching to get the large red suitcase lighter by moving several one-pound bags of Hilo Coffee Mill whole bean coffee to the smaller purple suitcase. Giving away omiyage as we went from garden to garden plus mailing home packages of books and gifts purchased kept us at the proper check in weight.
Our first train — #19 on The Crescent Line — arrives in Atlanta to take us to Birmingham, Alabama.
On some legs of this journey, we reserved coach seats. The ride from Atlanta, GA, to Birmingham, AL, had a delayed departure due to a live wire on the tracks somewhere in Virginia, but once underway, proceeded uneventfully. The Crescent Line begins in New York and goes to New Orleans. We quickly learned why our fellow coach passengers traveled with blankets. The AC was cranked up and it was COLD inside that car. Thank goodness for jackets and sweaters.
close-up detail of wire, rock and metal slat combination used to create benches in Railroad Park, Birmingham, AL
Railroad Park in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, a few blocks from the Amtrak station, is full of wide open spaces used by walkers, joggers, symphony performances and yoga classes, to name a few. It was a featured stop on the Birmingham Botanical Garden’s Leaf and Petal Glorious Gardens tour.
The Crescent Line continued from Birmingham, AL, to New Orleans, LA, a day-long trip for which we booked a roomette. I napped in the upper berth using both mattresses as Bill stayed seated upright in the seats below giving him a chance to wander around to the lounge and dining car. This line had some older equipment so our roomette featured a sink and toilet. Shower was down the hall. Seats were wide, roomy and comfortable. In this sleeping car, roomettes lined one side of the car with a narrow windowed aisle on the other side.
poster for the Crescent Line — loved the graphics throughout this journey
The New Orleans, Louisiana, train station features some of the most amazing frescoes I’ve seen in a long time. The New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal (NOUPT) was designed in 1949 and opened in 1954 at which time it was considered an ultra-modern facility.
Featured are 120 feet (2,166 square feet) of murals depicting New Orleans and Louisiana history painted by Conrad A. Albrizio with the assistance of James Fisher. Albrizio was a renown art professor at Louisiana State University. The murals in four parts depict the ages of exploration, colonization, conflict and the modern age. The murals were restored after Hurricane Katrina.
New Orleans is served by three lines: Crescent, City of New Orleans with service to Chicago, and Sunset Limited with service to Los Angeles. Our next leg of the journey would be aboard the Sunset Limited which used to go all the way from Los Angeles to Orlando, Florida but the section of track beyond New Orleans has yet to be replaced after Hurricane Katrina. Our train left New Orleans before noon and arrived in San Antonio, Texas in the middle of the night.
one version of the Sunset Limited poster
From San Antonio to Chicago, with several stops along the way, we were aboard the Texas Eagle. Sometimes we were in coach. For the long leg from Fort Worth, TX, to St. Louis, MO, we were in another roomette, this one in newer equipment that featured roomettes on both sides of a central aisle.
K.T.’s window seat in coach with plenty of leg and elbow room, loads of space for carry-on baggage above plus beneath seats. Note the different color tags stuck in a rail indicating to the conductor that passenger’s stop.
Bill enjoys the view from the large windows in this typical roomette. The upper berth drops down to just above the top edge of the window — still plenty of headroom for the person in the lower seat, but the upper berth in some sleeping cars can be rather close to the ceiling of the car.
Michael Mitchell, the new president of the Japanese Garden Foundation of New Orleans and his wife Tina graciously served as our guides to Yakumo Nihon Teien, the Japanese garden in City Park designed by Robin Tanner.
“In a Japanese Garden”
By Lafcadio Hearn
“No effort to create an impossible or pure ideal landscape is made in the Japanese Garden. Its artistic purpose is to copy faithfully the veritable landscape, and to convey the real impression that a real landscape communicates. It is therefore at once a picture and a poem; perhaps even more a poem than a picture. For as nature’s scenery, in its varying aspects, affects us with sensations of joy or solemnity, of grimness or of sweetness, of force or of peace, so must the true reflection of it in the labor of the landscape gardener create not merely an impression of beauty, but a mood in the soul.”
The Atlantic Monthly
Volume 70, Issue 417
Lafcadio Hearn (Koizumi Yakumo) and his wife Koizumi Setsu
In the midst of 1,300 acres in New Orleans’ City Park is Yakumo Nihon Teien, a garden that celebrates an important connection between New Orleans and her sister city Matsue City in Japan. Yakumo refers to Lafcadio Hearn, a writer who lived in New Orleans from 1877 to 1886 and whose house on Cleveland Avenue remains a registered historic place. In writing about New Orleans, Hearn brought to national attention the city’s Creole population and distinctive cuisine, Louisiana voodoo, and the French Opera.
Hern was sent to Japan in 1890 as a newspaper correspondent. During the summer of 1890, he obtained a teaching position at a middle school in Matsue, a town in Shimane Prefecture in western Japan on the seacoast. During the 15 months there, he married Koizumi Setsu. Late the following year, he obtained another teaching position in Kumamoto and during the next three years completed Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.
In 1896 after accepting a position teaching English literature at Tokyo Imperial University, he became a naturalized Japanese citizen and assumed the name Koizumi Yakumo. He continued teaching and writing in Japan until shortly before his untimely death at the age of 54 in 1904. He is considered a national treasure in Japan.
There are other Japan-New Orleans connections. “The first Japanese consulate outside of New York was in New Orleans starting in the 1920s. After Hurricane Katrina, it moved to Nashville,” said Mike Mitchell, new president of the Japanese Garden Foundation.
Barrier-free access is along this entry with a carefully pruned bamboo thicket.
The dream of the Japanese Garden Foundation of New Orleans, starting back in1985, came into being with the opening dedication of the first increment of this garden in July 2005. When Hurricane Katrina hit a month later, everything was under more than a foot of water and many of the plants were lost in the flood. Major stonework and other physical elements sustained no major damage and the garden was quickly restored with the addition of a machiai, a small structure with a bench that offers a wonderful view. The garden had a grand re-opening in 2007.
view from a bench in the machiai
The garden was recently expanded, doubling its size. A wisteria arbor, stone pathways, and more fencing were added. Another expansion is hoped for in the future when an adjacent park administration building relocates to new quarters. “Future expansion would allow for a water feature,” Mitchell said.
“It’s not a big and splashy garden,” Mitchell said. “It’s contemplative.
Significant stones used in this garden were selected at the quarry in Tennessee and hauled by landscape architect Robin Tanner.
Robin Tanner, garden designer, is now at work on a book outlining the peaceful, contemplative nature of gardens.
“We couldn’t make this as beautiful as it is without the help of dedicated volunteers,” Mitchell said. “Daily maintenance is the key.”
Bill and I are so often wrapped up in “getting the story” and “framing the photo.” It’s important for us to sit still and enjoy the surroundings. Many thanks again and again to Mike and Tina for making that possible.
In the midst of touring, photographing and writing about Japanese gardens, Bill and I were given a quick tour of several plantation properties in St. Francisville. Rosedown Plantation deserves mention in this blog as it was among the earliest sites of the introduction and popularization of azaleas and camellias and many other plants we associate with Japanese gardens.
According to a new book, The Garden Diary of Martha Turnbull Mistress of Rosedown Plantation edited and annotated by Suzanne Turner, plants introduced to the area included azalea, camellia, osmanthus, cryptomeria japonica, pittosporum tobira, Japanese quince, Japanese wisteria, and Japanese sweetflag among others.
Martha and her husband Daniel Turnbulls honeymooned in Europe touring the great formal gardens of France and Italy and their influence is still seen at Rosedown. The gardens grew out from the house over a span of many decades, to cover approximately 28 acres. In the 19th century, Rosedown was one of the few privately maintained formal gardens in the United States. Martha Turnbull made purchases from nursery catalogs from the Midwest and East. Plants arrived by river, ocean, railroad and wagon.Invoices indicate azalea and camellia were purchased in 1837 from a nursery on Long Island. During the Depression, Turnbull’s descendants maintained a small nursery at Rosedown, propagating azalea and camellia plants for sale.
Mac Griswold, landscape historian and author of Washington’s Gardens at Mount Vernon, calls Martha Turnbull “the greatest hands-on gardener of the Deep South.”
Her terse garden journal, cryptic to the point of code, covers the years 1836 to 1894. For 15 years, author Suzanne Turner edited and annotated Turnbull’s garden diary. Turner is LSU professor of landscape architecture emerita and owner of a landscape architecture firm in Baton Rouge.
“When I was teaching at LSU, women kept asking me to give talks on 19th century gardens,” Turner said. “Diaries and journals are rare other than financial records on cotton and sugar cane.”
“She propagated camellias, hedges, roses and evergreen stuff,” Turner said. “She saved vegetable and annual seed. It seems she had a greenhouse from the outset.”
The National Park Service maintains a web site with a National Register of Historic Places. Its travel itinerary notes that Rosedown Plantation was established in the 1830s by Daniel and Martha Barrow Turnbull. Once encompassing 3,455 acres, “Rosedown Plantation is one of the most intact, documented examples of a domestic plantation complex in the South. It embodies the lifestyle of the antebellum South’s wealthiest planters in a way very few other surviving properties can. The plantation’s landscape is a laboratory for the study and interpretation of the cultural traditions of slavery, the life style of the gentry and scientific experiments in agriculture and horticulture,” according to the NPS web site.
“At its height, the plantation encompassed 3,455 acres, and included the typical components of cotton plantations of the mid-antebellum period in the South–agricultural acreage planted with the cash crop, fields of fodder crops, pastureland for cattle, stables for horses, yards and pens for poultry and other farm animals, the quarters of enslaved Africans (where they typically had their own individual garden plots), a kitchen garden, an orchard, and the pleasure, or ornamental, gardens adjacent to the main plantation house, or the “Great House.” Over the years the acreage was subdivided and although the working portions of the plantation have vanished, both the house and the gardens survive. The c.1835 Federal-Greek revival style great house, complete with Grecian style wings c.1845, is at the head of a 660-foot long oak allee. It is typical of the small minority of great houses built by the South’s wealthiest planters.
the entry allee lined with live oak trees today
“What distinguishes the landscape of Rosedown are its pleasure gardens, notable for their size, sophistication and refined plant collections. The gardens were the passion of Martha Turnbull and her garden diary provides invaluable insight into the story of the garden’s planting and management. She recorded her first entry in 1836 and her last in 1895, a year before her death at the age of 87.”
Hydrangeas planted in great drifts form an edge between wilder brush and the huge live oak trees lining the front entrance.
The new publication on Rosedown Plantation is available through your local bookstore, at Rosedown Plantation’s gift shop or on-line from a number of vendors.
A post script:
Stark Young’s 1934 novel — wildly popular before Gone With The Wind — opens with a description of the fictional Portobello Plantation, which was based on Rosedown Plantation. Young was a New York Herald Tribune theatre critic who became friends with the sisters who inherited Rosedown.
“Along the avenue the light struck here and there on the statues with their marble pedestals, and on the walks with their green borders; and at the far end you saw the house, on which the last glow of twilight rested, standing out among the garden trees…a retreat, a lovely and secret place, strangely for man and domestic at the same time…the product of romantic feeling and thought.”
Walter Imahara in the conference center surrounded by his father’s poetry carved on cypress wood. (photo by Bill F. Eger)
In retirement, some begin an “encore” career, others volunteer in a field of personal interest and others put time and effort into achieving a life-long dream. With his 54-acre botanical garden in St. Francisville, Louisiana, Walter Imahara is doing all three.
I first learned of Imahara from a family member who was his classmate in Baton Rouge at Istrouma High School in 1955.
“You’ve got to see what he’s doing,” our cousin insisted, when we told her we were coming to New Orleans. So, on Friday June 1, my husband Bill and I drove to Baton Rouge, picked her up and continued on to St. Francisville where we met a vibrant and fascinating family.
Imahara family history
Walter’s parents, James and Haruka Imahara were among several “Cajun Nikkei” – Japanese American settlers in the New Orleans area following release from a World War II internment camp in Arkansas. Born in 1903 in Watsonville, California, James was the son of immigrants from Hiroshima. In California the family owned farm land and raised strawberries, grapes, and fruit trees.
In 1941, James was in his Model T when he heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor, an event that altered the lives of every American. “My family lost everything, including the family home and farm we worked so hard for 20 years to improve only to get locked into concentration camps for more than three years,” he said in his later years.
As son Walter remembers it, “From May 1942 to 1945, we were relocated to Fresno Assembly Center in California and then to camps in Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas. After the war, Pop moved his family of 10 to Louisiana to start a new life.”
James worked for a nursery business in New Orleans propagating houseplants and raising vegetables on the side that were sold Villa in St. at the French Market. Within a few years, he was hired by the owners of Afton Villa to restore gardens in St. Francisville and then moved to Baton Rouge to begin his own business.
In a book about their family, Family Dreams, Journey of the Sansei, author Diane Koos Gentry recounts the Imahara story, gathered in interviews over 20 years. Many of the quotes that follow are from this book. Copies are available from Imahara’s Botanical Garden.
Family Dreams: Journey of the Sansei was written by Diane Koos Gentry and copyright 2008 by Walter Imahara.
When working at Afton Villa, “James drove all the way to Mobile to buy Japanese cherry trees for the grounds. ‘When they were in bloom, there is nothing more beautiful,’ James said. ‘But when their time comes, all the blooms drop. It’s symbolic. The Japanese way is to forgive without a grudge. Afton Villa made me start forgetting the days of internment and our losses. It’s all over with now. I don’t feel any bitterness at all.’
“Restoring the gardens of a well-known and much loved historic home in a place like St. Francisville, which is known for its lovely homes and plantations, is a great accomplishment in the South. The name Imahara became associated with horticulture and landscape design.”
Baton Rouge and the beginning of Imahara’s Landscape
When restoration at Ashton Villa was complete, the family moved back to Baton Rouge where James took a job at a nursery then started James’ Gardening Service.
“For the most part, it was just me and Mama,” said the elder Imahara in the Family Dreams book. “Mama was the backbone of all our business. The kids were in school. We started with a wheelbarrow, a broken-down pickup, a hoe and a shovel and, of course, my pruning shears.”
Walter chose a major in horticulture at the University of Southwest Louisiana at Lafayette where he discovered another passion in his life: weightlifting where he is described as being a fierce competitor and national champion.
As the 1950s drew to a close, James Imahara received a small percentage of his requested claim for compensation on the loss of California property and farm land during World War II. That settlement was enough to purchase several acres and a home in Baton Rouge.
James and Haruka began planting grass to sell sod. “Baton Rouge was growing and prospering as the Imaharas were starting their mom and pop business. Growth meant new subdivisions to landscape,” Gentry writes.
James was able to purchase a greenhouse from his former employer at Afton Villa. The couple propagated their own stock. The business grew as they waited for Walter with his degree in horticulture to come home. The year he graduated, 1960, the Army sent him to Germany for three years.
“My father always told us, ‘Get an education, serve your country and buy land.’ Service in the military was expected of his sons,” Walter said. The year he graduated, 1960, the Army sent him to Germany for three years. Walter enlisted as a private, went to officer candidate school and came out a first lieutenant.
In Germany, Walter met Sumi Matsumoto, an elementary school teacher from Berkeley, California. Sumi and her parents had been interned in Arizona. In 1963 they were married in Munich. When it was time to leave Germany, they moved home to Louisiana. The day we visited, Walter and Sumi celebrated 49 years of marriage.
Pelican State Nursery
Walter joined his parents’ enterprise on the eight and one-half acres they owned, which was renamed Pelican State Nursery. Walter added three more greenhouses and assembled them on the property making 10,000 square feet of greenhouses and worked to grow small plants and vegetables, wholesale and retail.
“James also grew specimen plants one couldn’t find anywhere else like large junipers and topiary trees.” By 1968, Imahara’s included a retail garden center and landscape business.
“This garden center was distinctly Japanese, both in design and operation. James carved the name Imahara’s in Japanese characters on a huge cypress board. Walter and [his brother-in-law] Sam hung the sign on a tall wooden archway that marked the front entrance. Behind the entrance, decorative vertical wooden boards lined the front of the building, adding to the simple but beautiful Japanese design.”
James Imahara at age 86 when he likened his life to Daruma — “we may get knocked down seven times, but we get up eight times.”
Walter sold the landscaping location in 1984 and built a second more modern garden center on Perkins Road in Baton Rouge. The old location was 5,000 square feet. The garden center on Perkins Road totaled 17,500 square feet. In addition, there was enough land to build 35,000 square feet of retail space in the future.
The new garden center was designed to Walter’s specifications with concrete walkways and an automated sprinkler system. Such innovations reduced labor costs and maximized profit. His leadership extended to nursery and landscape associations such as the Baton Rouge Nursery and Landscape Association, the Louisiana Association of Nurserymen, the State Horticultural Commission, the Southern Nurserymen Association and the National Landscape Association and in 2002 Walter was named to the National Landscape Association Hall of Fame in Louisville, Kentucky.
All was not peaches and cream. Shortly after the new center opened, Walter’s sister May was diagnosed with lung cancer. Within three months, the financial stalwart of the company was dead. For the next few years, Walter tried to coax family members into joining the firm. Niece Wanda, is sister Lilly’s daughter, had completed the five-year landscape architecture program at LSU and was working at a high paying job in Washington DC.
Three Generations of Landscaping
“Though it may not have been evident to either of them at first, Walter and Wanda, who had very different personalities in 1987 and clashed frequently, proved to be ideal partners in the landscape company. Each had individual strengths and talents and complemented the other, forging a stronger business,” Gentry writes.
“The first big commercial landscaping project Wanda tackled was the new Blue Cross/Blue Shield headquarters in Baton Rouge. ‘I saw the building nearing completion and talked to Uncle Walt,’ Wanda remembered. ‘Imahara’s had not put in a bid. I called and asked for the opportunity to bid on landscaping the building inside and out.
‘Uncle Walt and I stayed in the office until 7 or 8 p.m. working together until I could draw the plan and put prices to it. The secret to securing the job you design is using plant material that is readily available to you, the best looking plants that will continue to look good as they grow and mature. Uncle Walt and Grandpa both told me to work hard and be honest, and that would make me successful. Part of being honest is not to put in plant material that will cost a client an arm and a leg or material that will freeze and die in the winter. We believe in spending [a client’s] money wisely by using plants that are native to this area’.”
Wanda’s enthusiasm, drive and creativity added maintenance contracts on the larger commercial projects they installed to provide a more steady income stream and to provide service to those customers.
Imahara’s Botanical Garden
“An active man like Walter Imahara never retires; he just stops coming in to work every day.”
Walt handed over the reins of the landscape enterprises to Wanda and kept busy with real estate ventures. A long-time dream to own property in St. Francisville came true with the purchase of their second home on 15 acres in 2001, which he landscaped with camellias, azaleas, cherry trees, crepe myrtle, many varieties of magnolia and holly, weeping yupon and yew, palms, crab apples and weeping mulberries, among others. The entire residential property is served by irrigation and every plant is labeled.
Another dream is three years along the path to realization. Walter bought 54 acres on Mahoney Road in St. Francisville and spent a great deal of time clearing wilderness, rutted by Mississippi River floods and erosion.
Walter Imahara gestures across the camellia collection toward sugi pines planted on the far gully.
Three days a week, Walter and two workers planted a hundred or more plants a day. To minimize erosion, centipede grass sod was installed plus tree logs and treated poles are used to edge beds and create a terraced effect. Three year old camellias are starting to fill in along the edges of the forest. Two and a half year old ginkgo trees, three-gallon pots when planted, are now taller than I am. The years of landscape experience are bearing fruit in this infant garden – all the beds are prepared to receive and nourish plants. Garden materials were planted in groups of threes and fives. “The landscape was designed by sight so that a great view can be seen from anywhere in the garden. A 225-foor deep well, with a four-inch pipe installed, provides substantial volume and pressure to allow as many as 10 sprinklers to run at once,” according to a garden flyer.
Three of nine connecting ponds are visible in the distance — one pond for each child of James and Haruka Imahara.
In the camellia garden, varieties include Funny Face Betty, Gunsmoke, Purple Dawn, Royal Velvet, and more than 90 other cultivars. More than 3,000 azaleas are planted, some to eventually develop into a huge karikomi on one hillside. Varieties include Judge Solomon, G.G. Gerbing, George Tabor and the Encore series.
Collections of magnolias, weeping trees, hollies, maples, purple leaf plums, crape myrtle and a stand of Cryptomeria japonica (Sugi pine) are among other major plantings. Nine connecting ponds have been installed, one for each child born to James and Haruka Imahara.
The Japanese garden “is still in the thought stage,” Walter said. He’s collecting stone and is pulling together ideas from his and his wife Sumi’s travels. “You have to come back in two or three years and see what it looks like then!”
“Come back …” Oh yes, I want to see this garden as it grows and matures.
Already the area includes a conference center, snack shop and gift store along with equipment storage buildings. The conference center holds a collection of James Masaru Imahara’s poetry carved on cypress boards. “For a long time, we were curious about dad’s hobby,” said Lily. “Now we realize this is his legacy. We know who we are and where we came from.”
For more information on Imahara’s Botanical Garden, visit their blog site imaharasbotanicalgarden.blogspot.com or to schedule a tour or special event, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or (225) 635-6001. The mailing address is P. O. Box 605 St. Francisville, LA 70775.
Thank you Wanda and Walter for your hospitality and thank you cousin Ruby for bringing us together.
Wanda, Walter and Ruby enjoying the tour of nearby plantation properties. What a wonderful visit to St. Francisville!
Active in the Jerome and Rohwer internment camp reunion groups, Walter recently released several YouTube videos on the family, their experience, their resilience, their businesses, and the current status of Imahara’s Botanical Garden. Here is one: