Why are Japanese gardens so tranquil and soothing? In Japan, gardens are about so much more than plants. They engage the senses and the whole of nature: water, sunlight, cool shadows, the sound of bird song, the brush of a breeze against your cheek, the scent of cypress. They’re also designed as landscapes. In some designs, water is symbolized by fine gravel raked with patterns simulating currents and waves. These details encourage you to slow down and draw you out of yourself. Here, five Japanese gardens with restorative qualities.
Japanese Tea Garden
A fantastical realm of pagodas and vermilion shrine gates, the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park has been welcoming visitors since the 1894 World's Fair. It is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States, with a charm uniquely its own. Cherries, magnolias, azaleas and red-leaved Japanese maples inject spots of vibrant color against a plush tapestry of green. A waterfall tumbles down among rocks and Japanese-style topiary, and labyrinthine paths reveal surprises— such as an 18th-century bronze Buddha—at every turn. Have a go at climbing up the semi-circular drum bridge, also known as the half-moon bridge since its reflection in the stream completes the circle. The teahouse, overlooking a koi pond, has been rebuilt several times over the last 125 years, but you can still enjoy its famous fortune cookies as well as other tempting Japanese snacks and sweets, along with a selection of green teas.
Shofu-En Japanese Garden
Denver Botanic Gardens
The rugged mountain scenery of Colorado meets the elegant contours of traditional Japanese design at Shofu-en, part of Denver Botanic Gardens. Boulders from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains were transplanted into the garden, along with more than 130 wind-sculpted Ponderosa pines from the Roosevelt National Forest near Boulder giving Shofu-en its name, which translates to “Garden of the Pine Winds.” Conifers, weeping birches and Japanese maples cast their reflection in a tranquil lake. Japanese elements include stone lanterns and rustic wooden bridges, and the teahouse nearby was built in Japan and reassembled on-site.
Suiho-En, The Japanese Garden
Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant
Suiho-en, Los Angeles' “Garden of Water and Fragrance,” is boldly designed around a four-acre pond at this water reclamation plant in the Van Nuys district of San Fernando Valley. Lush green islands with pines pruned to look like billowy clouds float on the shimmering water, and meandering paths lead to bamboo groves and a dry Zen garden past waterfalls, stone lanterns and mounds of immaculately trimmed azaleas. Sci-fi fans might also recognise the site’s futuristic administration building as the Starfleet Academy on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Roji-En, Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
Delray Beach, Florida
50 miles north of Miami, Delray Beach’s Roji-en offers a change of pace from bustling South Florida. The “Garden of the Drops of Dew,” part of the Morikami Museum, consists of six distinct gardens, each inspired by different periods in Japanese history, from the Heian Period of the 9th through 12th centuries, to the Meiji Period of the late 19th and early 20th century. A path takes visitors through a sequence of unfolding landscapes; some panoramic, others intimate. Healing through the rediscovery of harmony and peace within oneself and with nature is part of the cultural center’s stated mission—a therapeutic walking membership is available seasonally. A series of annual Japanese festivals are also held at Roji-en, including the Lantern Festival in October, when more than 1,000 lanterns float on the central lake.
Garden of the Phoenix
The Garden of the Phoenix, on Jackson Park's Wooded Island, offers a similar respite from hectic city life. The origins of this restful garden, also known as the “Osaka Garden” in tribute to Chicago's sister city, go back to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. An arched Japanese bridge over the garden's central pond opens up to views of the East Lagoon toward the imposing porticoed facade of the Museum of Science and Industry. In the spring the garden is full of cherry blossoms. Yoko Ono's lotus-petal sculpture, Sky Landing, is nearby.