The Western Colorado Botanical Garden, located in Grand Junction, is one of several legacies of the late landscape architect Robert “Bob” Arcieri who passed away while on a hike in the remote canyons of Utah in 2007. He was born in Grand Junction to William and Sabbie Arcieri, the owners of the Arcieri Nursery on First Street. It was at this nursery that Bob’s love of nature and knowledge of plants developed and grew into a lifelong passion, according to the Summit Daily News.
A 1961 graduate of Grand Junction High School, senior class president and an Eagle Scout, Arcieri attended Stanford University for two years and then transferred to Iowa State and graduated in 1966 with a Bachelors of Science Degree in Landscape Architecture. He was inducted into the Honor Society of Agriculture and the Honor Society in Architecture and Allied Arts. He continued his education at Iowa State, graduating with a Masters Degree in Urban Planning in 1968.
Bob moved to Breckenridge in 1970 and with Architect Jon Gunson formed the Harris St. Group, an architecture and planning firm which designed the sidewalks, lights and landscaping on Main Street as well as the town’s Master Plan, development code and historic guidelines which are still in use today. The firm received numerous awards, including the American Institute of Planners Meritorious Program Award and the State of Colorado Columbine Award for Design Excellence.
In 1982, Bob and his wife Deb moved to Grand Junction, where Bob practiced as a Landscape Architect. He received numerous landscape awards for gardens in Grand Junction, many in conjunction with Bookcliff Gardens.
“Bob’s legacy will live on in the beautiful gardens, waterfalls, and changed landscapes in Western Colorado,” said his obituary in the Summit Daily News of October 13, 2007.
The Western Colorado Botanical Gardens is one such changed landscape.
“Years ago this was salvage yard, a junk yard,” said Margie Frey who has worked with the gardens for two years. Her name tag notes her title as Garden Diva. “The Japanese garden was designed by Bob Arcieri in the late 1990s. He did this amazing design plus a 50 page document on plants, styles etc., but the garden remains a work in progress.”
There are 15 acres in the botanical gardens and ten named gardens. Although the organization has had some difficulty raising money in the past, things are looking up.
“Repairs in the greenhouse were completed and we reopened three months ago. The gift shop helps support garden,” said Frey.
A mutually beneficial partnership is underway with Mesa Developmental Services, a non-profit group that assists persons with developmental disabilities.
Mesa Developmental Services has a mobile crew that helps handle landscapes, a woodshop crew that helped with rebuilding, and a labor solutions program that helps with recycling and shredding.”
The gardens also enjoy collaboration with Colorado State University. “The rose garden was just planted last year and includes century old rose varieties. The cactus society takes care of the cactus garden, the herb society and orchid society help out too. The bonsai club meets here once a month,” Frey said.
Among plants featured in the Japanese garden are a recently planted weeping white pine, a weeping crabapple planted on Earth Day, weeping cherry trees, Black Hills spruce and pine.
The small garden structure was designed to camouflage the pump house. A bridge remains to be built at the concrete lined pond planted with water lilies. Local stone has been used throughout the garden.
For more information on the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens, go to the link
For more information on Bookcliff Gardens, go to the link
Photos not otherwise credited in this blog are by K.T. Cannon-Eger. Click on any image to see it full size. Comments are welcome.
Comments on this and other articles in this blog are welcome.
“The Japanese have taken their love of growing things and their realization of man’s union with nature and refined them in the beauty of their gardens. The purpose of a Japanese garden is to present natural forms and to create a tranquil beauty that leads the visitor from everyday life to a calm, serene, reflective communion with nature.”
Sansho-en at Chicago Botanic Garden is a 17.3 acre promenade style garden or kaiyu-shiki, a garden style developed during the 17th century. Sansho-en means “The Garden of the Three Islands” – Keiunto, Seifuto and Horajima – visible in a diagram of the garden. The experience in a stroll garden is to see the garden while walking. Different views appear on the journey along a winding path.
“A walk through Sansho-en reveals a collection of smaller gardens and classic elements from several historical Japanese garden styles,” said one garden brochure. “In Sansho-en you can experience contemplative dry gardens, an intimate moss garden, cool woodland gardens and a distant paradise garden, all in one visit.”
Dr. Koichi Kawana (1930-1990) designed more than a dozen major Japanese gardens in the United States, including Seiwa-en at the Missouri Botanical Garden and Shofu-en at the Denver Botanic Gardens. In addition, he was a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he lectured on Japanese art, landscape design and architecture. Dedicated in 1982, Sansho-en celebrated its 30th birthday the day we visited in June.
Sansho-en also is called the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden. An endowment was created for the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden through a gift from the Malott Family Foundation in 2006, when the garden was re-dedicated. Income from the endowment will provide funds to maintain the Japanese Garden and provide programs that teach visitors about Japanese culture and history.
Mary Plunkett is manager of Interpretive Programs at Chicago Botanic Garden and oversees seven gardens. There are nearly 200 interpretive volunteer positions throughout Chicago Botanic, 20 in the Japanese garden.
Plunkett came to Chicago Botanic Garden 11 years ago with a background in volunteer management. “Nobody comes here to give poor information. Everyone comes with a good heart and desire to be helpful to our curious visitors, so my job is to encourage and inform them,” Plunkett said. “A volunteer generally is here two times a month. If you want a good volunteer program you have to have staff to support them. We are so lucky to have that support.”
“Our volunteers are here Wednesday through Sunday through the first weekend in October. We track nearly 35,000 visitor encounters during a season,” Plunkett said.
Volunteers have an extensive document of information, history, tool identification and frequently asked questions for training and reference. A board to which various tools are attached aids in explaining their uses.
“Volunteers can be a driving force in the garden,” said senior horticulturist Benjamin Carroll. “They have such enthusiasm. It’s really important for us to recognize their work and express gratitude regularly.”
Edie Rowell is in her fifth season as a garden volunteer. She spends one day a week in the Malott Japanese Garden and one day “digging in the fruit and vegetable garden.”
“Visitors do not go inside the Shoin House. We speak to them from the engawa, explain the construction, tools, type of garden and so forth,” Rowell said. “This is not a tea house. Tea houses are usually smaller – four and a half to six tatami size. This is a 23 tatami house. Shoin rooms started out as the study of Buddhist monks. The style morphed into the Camp David of its day – a man cave for a very high ranking man, a retreat house for a daimyo where one’s equilibrium could be restored.”
The senior horticulturist at Chicago Botanic Garden, Benjamin Carroll obtained his B.S. in horticulture, Writtle College in Essex, England. Carroll was employed for two years at Cambridge University Botanic Garden before joining the Chicago Botanic Garden staff. He is a director-at-large for the North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA).
Chicago Botanic Garden’s facilities are truly delightful. The Visitor Center adjacent to the parking area offers an extensive and well stocked gift shop on the right, an abundant café on the left, an information desk and “Ask A Master Gardener” service. Educational classes, children’s programs, seasonal displays, and membership benefits are a few of the many offerings.
Chicago Botanic Garden offers 25 gardens on 385 acres. Roughly 60 acres are covered by water. There is no admission charge for Chicago Botanic Garden. There is a fee for parking. To plan your visit, check out the web site for hours, directions, parking fee, transportation, what’s in bloom, etc.
To see a 7 ½ minute video in Malott Garden uploaded by Benjamin Carroll to You Tube in 2009, visit:
For other planting tips from Benjamin Carroll, check out the following short stories:
Benjamin Carroll planting bulbs
WGN-TV interview on houseplants during the winter
Hope for healing the planet
Photos not otherwise credited are by K.T. Cannon-Eger. Click on any photo to see a full size image.
The Japanese Garden at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden is worth a return visit, in my opinion, every season of the year. Every season has its joys. The variety of plantings and styles of Japanese garden at Fort Worth offer that special kind of joy to all.
I visited two years ago in the spring, took 100 photos in an hour’s time, and have been mentioning it to my husband ever since. Our recent visit this summer, his first, entranced him as much as my first visit did me.
This seven and a half acre site was a watering hole for cattle, a gravel pit, a dump, and a squatters’ camp before Scott Fikes, former Botanic Garden director, and Charles Campbell, former director of Park and Recreation came up with and pursued the idea in the late 1960s. Kingsley Wu, a graduate of the University of Tokyo, was commissioned to finalize plans, according to a garden brochure, and construction began in 1970. After many clubs, companies and individuals put in their time, talent and treasure, the garden opened in 1973.
The resulting collection of gardens offers a pleasant stroll from the main gate through the free courtyard garden to the ticket office to the green and cool delights beyond.
A little history on the early designers
The main gate was designed by Albert Komatsu and Associates, an architectural firm founded in 1959 and later known as Komatsu Architecture. Alfred Komatsu was a well known, award-winning and highly respected architect in Fort Worth. He helped found the Society of American Military Engineers post in Fort Worth (SAME) and in 2011 was its oldest living founder.
The main gate was dedicated to Scott Fikes in 1976. Fikes retired in 1975 after serving 17 years as the Fort Worth Botanical Garden’s director. He served in the U.S. Army in World War II and was a member of the National Society of Landscape Architects. He passed away in 2002.
Charles Boyle Campbell was a landscape architect by training. He was 39 years old when he accepted the position in Fort Worth as director of parks in 1962. Two years later, the parks and recreation boards were merged and Campbell was named director of the new department.
“Throughout his quarter-century of service, he was a strong advocate for the creation of green space, and during his tenure, city regulations were amended to require residential developers to set aside parkland in their subdivisions. During the years he served as director, the number of parks increased from 57 parks on 2,872 acres to 163 parks with 9,923 acres,” said Susan Allen Kline in the book Images of America: Fort Worth Parks. Campbell retired in 1987 and passed away in 2006.
Steve Huddleston remarked on Kingsley Wu on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Fort Worth Botanic Garden: “The major project in the garden during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was the construction of the Japanese Garden, a 7.5-acre garden that is now the crown jewel of the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. In 1968, the city employed Kingsley Wu, professor of environmental living at Texas Women’s University, to design a master plan for the Japanese Garden. The three major pools were staked and then 454 cubic yards of concrete were poured to line the pools. A waterfall, spillways, and islands were fashioned in and around the pools. Patterned after the Ryoan-ji in Kyoto, the meditation garden was built in 1970.”
Among new plantings this spring are cherry trees, the gift of the Japanese Embassy to mark the centennial of Tokyo’s gift to the United States of more than 3,000 cherry trees planted at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.
“The most reliable and readily available variety of flowering cherry is the ‘Kwanzan’ (Prunus serrulata ‘Kwanzan’),” says Scott Brooks, senior gardener at FWBG. He oversees the 7 ½ acre Japanese Garden there. “It’s capable of reaching 25 feet in height with branches that start out upright and then spread horizontally. It has 2-inch-wide, rose-pink flower clusters. Newly planted trees produce a good showing of flowers, although bloom improves as the trees mature.”
Another variety that does well here, Brooks says, is Yoshino (Prunus x yedoensis), the variety Japan gave to the United States in 1912. It’s a fast-growing tree that can reach more than 30 feet. Although the young trees do not produce a lot of flowers, mature trees bloom profusely.
Brooks came to the garden in 1982 as a groundskeeper. By then many of the original trees had matured. The garden was clotted with vines and undergrowth. Tunnels had formed where the original designers had created paths.
Brooks set about the hard work of carefully uncovering what Fikes, Campbell, Komatsu and Wu had created, traveling several times to Japan. There gardeners steeped in 1,500 years of tradition taught him: “If you’re the keeper of a Japanese garden, you need to think about removing something every year,” he said.
Brooks now is the senior gardener. He showed us through, with that ever watchful gardener’s eye for something amiss or out of place, and spoke of the delights and challenges of this ever changing scene.
Nagaoka and Fort Worth have an active and dynamic Sister City relationship, celebrating 25 years this year in October. Mayor Betsy Price and Councilman Danny Scarth will lead a delegation to Nagaoka, Japan, to join in their fall festival October 2 to 12.
In the 1990s, Nagaoka, donated an authentic Mikoshi (a gilded and lacquered palanquin) to Fort Worth, which is currently on display within the Mikoshi House. Several trees, including pines and flowering cherries, were similarly donated.
In 1997, Mr. Shigeichi Suzuki, a landscape architect from Nagaoka, donated plans for a karesansui-style addition to the garden.
“When I received the plans, they were in kanji and metric,” said Brooks chuckling. “That was a wonderful challenge figuring that out.”
The addition was completed in 2000, and is now called the Suzuki Garden. It is a modern counterpart to the nearby classic karesansui of the same design as the abbot’s quarters of Ryoanji in Kyoto.
The tea house at the end of the pond was built as a memorial to the late Mary K. Umstead, secretary to the Horticulture Division. It was rebuilt this past year using plantation-grown ipe as a more lasting, sustainable tropical hardwood.
A new barrier free approach to the pavilion area offers visitors a closer view of the main waterfall. The Shinto-esque pavilion area offers several structures available for rental for special celebrations and weddings.
“The ‘Moon-Viewing Deck’ is a creative adaptation of the Ginkakuji temple’s famous ‘Kogetsudai’ sand cone. Fort Worth’s version is intended to be an interactive karesansui exhibit, in which visitors may ascend the flat-topped cone via steps, and view the composition from above. A ‘Taijitu’ (a yin-yang symbol), lies embossed in exposed-aggregate concrete at the summit. This highly unusual (but fun) addition to a Japanese garden is ultimately a cosmological symbol of Chinese origin. It also has other interpretations, including its most important contemporary association with Korean culture, and as a metaphor for oriental mysticism in American ‘Pop’ culture. The exhibit also features an amphitheatre that is countersunk into the same platform as the cone. Together, they serve as a performance venue for the garden’s two annual festivals (matsuri), and as a moonlit chapel for weddings,” Brooks said
In all, there are nearly 6,000 linear feet of stone, brick, wood, aggregate concrete and asphalt walkways in the garden, three pools and a couple of waterfalls including a small one in the corner of the entry to the gift shop, seven crossings over water, multiple fish food dispensers, an abundance of healthy koi in the ponds and plants to occupy the eye and mind.
Treasure Tree gift shop occupies a waterside structure reminiscent of medieval Japanese architecture. The well stocked store is operated by the Fort Worth Botanical Society. Proceeds benefit the continuing development and preservation of the garden.
The garden is included in the Fort Worth Botanic Garden web site http://fwbg.org/gardens/japanese/ and maintains its own Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fort-Worth-Japanese-Garden/168365139854742 on which Brooks has included several detailed guides to the plantings in multiple scrapbooks.
Operating hours during standard time are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and during daylight saving time 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily except Christmas. Admission fee for adults is $4.50 on weekends or $4 on weekdays; $3 for children ages 4 to 12. Children ages 3 and under are admitted free. Unsponsored children under 13 are not admitted. One adult may sponsor 5 children.
For additional information, call (817) 871-7686.
Photos with no credit line in this blog are by K.T. Cannon-Eger. Click on any image to see it full size.
Several videos of the Fort Worth Japanese Garden are featured on YouTube. Here is a short one from the spring festival http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xqj2KIb-DQs
and a longer piece featuring spring blooms
another featuring a summertime stroll with emphasis on the koi http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_ysysau35U
a taiko performance of Ujigawa by Dondoko Daiko at the 2009 fall festival http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upJ-5udVI4s
and one longer narration from winter http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dZCKCbo378
A personal note:
There’s something really wonderful about garden friends: you speak the same language, share similar goals, and in the best of times have the same taste in movies and jokes. Scott Brooks is one of those wonderful garden friends.
We met briefly in Long Beach, California, in spring of 2009 at the International Conference on Japanese Gardens Outside Japan. A year later, I stopped off in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on my way home from my mother’s death in Florida. My cousin dropped me off at the garden gate and I began my wandering in a somber mood.
Pretty soon, I was engaged by the collection of gardens – entranced by proportions, variety and trimming of various plantings.
As I wandered down the right side of the garden, I noticed maintenance going on at the left side of the pond. I kept catching glimpses of this man in a black t-shirt pushing a wheelbarrow. When I finally came even with him, I asked the perennial gardener’s question, “What are you working on?” “Re-doing the water pipe to this basin,” he replied “Have you been here long?” I asked. “28 years since 1982.” “Say, you look familiar….” and when we got to Long Beach as common ground he exclaimed, “You’re that lady from Hawaii.”
Later, as I approached the end of the path to meet up with my cousin at the gift shop, there was a splash of yellow by the pagoda – forsythia, one of my mother’s springtime favorites.
The Long Beach conference not only formed fast friendships, it led to the formation of the North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA). Fort Worth hosted one of the regional meetings that led the group from initiative to association.
The organization hosts a web site http://www.najga.org/cfm/index.cfm and a Facebook page. NAJGA will host Connections 2012, a conference for garden professionals and enthusiasts in Denver, Colorado, October 12 through 14 with a one-day advance design workshop on October 11. The conference is geared toward three topics every garden deals with: horticulture, human culture and business culture. Contact NAJGA for further information and to register.
Kumamoto en, the Japanese garden at San Antonio Botanical Garden, is a small polished gem set amid 33 acres of living museum. Enclosed by four bamboo walls, the garden presents a series of scenes reminiscent of famous gardens in Japan.
The garden was a gift of Sister City Kumamoto and first opened in 1989. Landscapers and craftsmen from Kumamoto, Kyoto, Tokyo and San Antonio participated in its design and construction. A complete restoration was accomplished in 2005.
“Upon entering the garden, you enter a place apart from the everyday world, a safe and peaceful haven where all anger, prejudice, and worldly problems are left at the gate,” writes Don Pylant in an article on the garden and its Sister City relationship with the City of San Antonio in http://japanesegardening.org/kumamotoen/
“Kumamoto en was designed to demonstrate the beauty of authentic Japanese gardening and introduce visitors to many elements used in Japanese Gardens. It is designed to be enjoyed one scene at a time, like a scroll painting, unrolling as you stroll through,” Pylant said.
Pylant was our guide through Kumamoto En. And what a perfect person to have as a guide to this lovely garden! Although Don currently serves as Park Operations Supervisor in a different area of the City of San Antonio Park Development Division, he spent nearly 24 years working in the San Antonio Botanical Garden. His love of Japanese gardens goes back further to his time in Dallas where he was Director of Horticulture at Dallas Civic Garden Center in Fair Park. He would spend time at the nearby Fort Worth Botanical Gardens’ beautiful Japanese garden, which inspired what would become a deep appreciation of Japanese gardening and a life-long commitment.
In 1980, Don moved from Dallas back to San Antonio to become part of the brand new San Antonio Botanical Gardens, where he participated in the development of gardens, growing facilities, educational programs, and construction of a botanical conservatory.
In 1985, the Japan America Society of San Antonio was formed to foster increased understanding and cooperation between the citizens of San Antonio and the citizens of Japan. Among early efforts was the construction of a Japanese garden in San Antonio.
In 1989, the City of San Antonio and sister city, Kumamoto City in Japan, jointly agreed to construct an authentic Japanese garden in San Antonio’s botanical garden. Don was involved in the planning and construction of this garden, working with architects in Kyoto and gardeners in Kumamoto, Kyoto and Tokyo. Don studied under master Japanese gardener Katsuoki Kawahara, a respected craftsman known for his work in temple gardens as well as commercial and residential gardens in Japan and around the world. Kawahara directed the team of professional gardeners selected from Kyoto, Tokyo and Kumamoto in the construction of Kumamoto En. After the construction, Don was responsible for the care and maintenance of the garden, and worked with gardeners from Japan in the garden.
In 2001, Mr. Kyoshi Yasui of Yasui-moku Company and the architect for Kumamoto En invited Don to come to Kyoto to train under master Japanese gardeners, architects, and bamboo craftsmen. He studied under Yasui, a respected architect nominated by the Emperor as a National Living Treasure of Japan. Don also studied under the master bamboo craftsmen at Otsuka Bamboo in Kyoto. The benefit of this training is evident in the four different bamboo walls surrounding Kumamoto en.
“All of this leads to a beautiful and authentic experience for our visitors,” Don said.
Yasui asked Don to help sustain and manage the Kumamoto en. He also asked Don to take what he had learned and teach others about the benefits, methods, and enjoyment of Japanese Gardens. In addition to continued study and demonstrations in Japanese gardening, the Japanese Gardening Organization was created with the mission of spreading the benefits of Japanese gardening for individuals, groups, communities, and society. JGO provides educational resources to foster the exchange of culture, knowledge, appreciation and application of Japanese gardening, striving for the highest level of accurate information and resources for Japanese gardening. It continues to grow, with its associated forum accumulating over 11,000 posts from Japanese gardeners worldwide.
Today, Don Pylant works for the City of San Antonio developing and managing the resources for more than 6,000 acres of Natural Area Parks and Edwards Aquifer Protection preserves. He has continued to assist in the maintenance of Kumamoto En and is consultant for the Japanese Tea Gardens in Sunken Gardens, Brackenridge Park in San Antonio, Texas. He designs and constructs Japanese gardens by request.
The Japan America Society of San Antonio continues to support the garden with annual co-sponsorship of Kumamoto en Day providing Japanese cultural, art, crafts and gardening demonstrations, along with tours of of the garden.
When we met at the carriage house entry to the botanical garden, Don introduced us to Candace Andrews, Director of Community Relations and Marketing for San Antonio Botanical Society, the non-profit organization chartered in 1980.
“The mission of this organization is to support the San Antonio Botanical Garden in its role of inspiring people to connect with the world of plants, and to understand the importance of plants in our lives,” Andrews said.
She spoke of the importance of volunteers to the garden, both in maintenance and as docents. The society operates the gift shop, proceeds of which support the garden. All rental proceeds and a portion of the restaurant income go toward the garden. She explained the San Antonio Botanical Garden is in the midst of master planning. Five year target is for the Society to take over from the city, privatizing the gardens.
Opened May 3, 1980 after nearly four years of construction, the San Antonio Botanical Garden is operated under the auspices of the City of San Antonio Department of Parks & Recreation. Bob Brackman has been executive director since 2006. Before accepting this position, he served for nearly 13 years as Vice President and Director of the Botanical Garden at the 55-acre Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art in Nashville and prior to that for more than 12 years as the Director of Horticulture for the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden.
Brackman joined us at the azumaya in the garden. In his six-plus years with the San Antonio Botanical Garden, Brackman has led the completion of the Master Site Plan for the Garden. This new plan will be the framework for future development at this 38-acre botanical and educational facility. In addition, while working with the City and the Board of the Botanical Society, he has seen the approval of a new management agreement between the City and the Society which will eventually transfer the operational management of the Botanical Garden to the Society.
A little more history of the San Antonio Botanical Garden from its web site http://www.sabot.org
“Mrs. R. R. Witt and Mrs. Joseph Murphy conceived the idea of a Botanical Garden in San Antonio in the 1940s. Together with their friends and associates, they organized the San Antonio Garden Center. Their first major effort was the development and presentation of a master plan for a public botanical garden in the late 1960s. The recommended garden site became the former Brackenridge waterworks land which was being held by the city.
“Funding for ground work began in 1970, when voters approved $265,000 in bonds for the Garden. This money, along with a grant awarded five years later by the Ewing Halsell Foundation, other contributions from organizations and individuals, and a significant grant from the Economic Development Administration helped pay for the project. Ground-breaking ceremonies were held on July 21, 1976. The official opening was May 3, 1980.
“The entire site is now known as the San Antonio Botanical Center. This includes both the 33-acre San Antonio Botanical Garden and the adjacent San Antonio Garden Center. The Garden Center is operated under contract by the non-profit Garden Center, Incorporated, although the facility is still owned and maintained by the City of San Antonio.
“Charted in 1980, the San Antonio Botanical Society is the 501 (c) (3) non-profit support organization specifically established in support of the San Antonio Botanical Garden.”
Unless otherwise credited, photos in this blog are by K.T. Cannon-Eger. To see a full size image of any photo, click on it.
San Antonio — Kumamoto Sister City Relationship
There are two plaques commemorating the Sister City relationship between Kumamoto in Japan and San Antonio, Texas: one from the original garden dedication in 1989 and another from the renewal in 2005. Here is the English text from both.
“In the spirit of this relationship, both cities hope for eternal peace and continuing friendship between our two cities and our countries as we work together to create this Japanese garden on San Antonio soil.
“It is out desire that this garden, as a symbol of our cordial relationship, will provide an introduction to one aspect of Japanese culture, and be cherished by the peoples of both cities in years to come.”
San Antonio City Council
Henry G. Cisneros, Mayor
“To honor the spirit of friendship between the Sister Cities of San Antonio USA and Kumamoto Japan, we celebrate the renewal of the Kumamoto En Japanese Garden.
“The Japanese Garden was a gift to the people of our two cities and a desire to share in each other’s culture and spirit of friendship.
“The renewal of this authentic Japanese Garden is completed in cooperation with many citizens as well as the San Antonio City Council and the Kumamoto City Council. This renewal is a symbol of the continuing friendship between our two cities and the commitment that we will work together to strengthen our relationship and foster eternal peace.”
November 19, 2005
Hon. Phil Hardberger Hon. Seishi Kohyama
Mayor, City of San Antonio Mayor of City of Kumamoto
Kumamoto Gardeners Association
San Antonio International Affairs Foundation
Toyota Motor North America Inc.
Japan America Society of San Antonio
San Antonio Botanical Society
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!”
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.
Here is a link to the heritage site of the Rohwer internment camp: http://rohwer.astate.edu/
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: