Four Chicago Gardens Take Center Stage at 2014 North American Japanese Garden Conference


CHICAGO, ILLINOIS — All roads lead to Chicago and its Japanese gardens for more than two hundred professionals and enthusiasts from the US, Canada and around the world who are attending the 2014 North American Japanese Garden Association’s (NAJGA) biennial conference happening October 16 to 18.  NAJGA, a non-profit organization, promotes the horticulture, business culture and human culture of Japanese gardens across North America.

Sansho-en (The Elizabeth Hubert Mallott Japanese Garden) at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Sansho-en (The Elizabeth Hubert Mallott Japanese Garden) at the Chicago Botanic Garden

The three-day conference, taking place at the Chicago Botanic Garden, features workshops and lectures on Japanese garden design and maintenance, horticulture, garden history, business practices, education and cultural programming, and health and wellness.  Top Japanese garden experts and scholars from North America, as well as from Japan and the United Kingdom, will be in town to lead the sessions.

The historic Garden of the Phoenix in Jackson Park, Chicago

The historic Garden of the Phoenix in Jackson Park, Chicago

On October 15th,  a special pre-conference, full-day workshop at the Garden of the Phoenix  (formerly Osaka Garden) in Jackson Park, Chicago, will serve as a living laboratory for skills development on moss gardening, aesthetic tree pruning and small stone work for pathways. Registration for the workshop is open to the public with some limits on capacity.  Participants will have the rare opportunity to work in this historic garden originally designed to showcase Japanese culture during the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.

Also on Wednesday,October 15th, many conference attendees will have the opportunity to visit the Anderson Japanese Gardens and the Rosecrance Japanese Garden in Rockford, Illinois, with the gardens’ designer himself, Hoichi Kurisu.

Twice-honored by the White House for his landscape designs, Kurisu will deliver the keynote address at opening ceremonies on Thursday, October 16th. His remarks will align with the NAJGA Conference theme “New Pathways: The Role of the Japanese Garden for Society and Self” in emphasizing the evolving role of Japanese gardens in modern society, in areas such as medical therapy, holistic wellness and even in healing the natural environment. Three other Kurisu-designed gardens in Oregon and Florida that successfully play up the medical and environmental potential of Japanese gardens will also be presented during the conference.

Chicago Botanic Garden’s very own Sansho-en, the Elizabeth Hubert Mallott Japanese Garden, will be the focus of an October 16th workshop (“Improvements in the Evolution of a Maturing Garden: Observing Sansho-en With New Eyes”) that emphasize the importance of maintenance in the art of the Japanese garden.

The workshop team is led by garden designer Sadafumi Uchiyama, curator for the Portland Japanese Garden. He will discuss real issues and potential problems for a maturing Japanese garden.  Uchiyama, who hails from a multi-generational gardening family in Kyushu, Japan, also has strong roots in Illinois, earning his Bachelor and Master degrees in Landscape Architecture from the University of Illinois.

Read full story here …….. North American Japanese Garden Association – Four Chicago-Area Gardens Take Center Stage at 2014 Conference of the North American Japanese Garden Association.

2014 North American Japanese Garden conference


Recognizing the evolution of North American gardens in the Japanese style as places of both timeless beauty and social relevance, the North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA) is launching its second biennial conference with the theme “New Pathways: The Role of the Japanese Garden for Society and Self.” 

The 2nd NAJGA conference will be held at the Chicago Botanic Garden from October 16 to 18, 2014. It will bring together Japanese garden specialists and devotees from across North America and the world to explore how Japanese gardens can better serve today’s audiences in terms of nurturing mental health and physical wellness, and contributing towards a more beautiful and humane society.

“The 2014 NAJGA conference promises to be a watershed event in transforming our perspective about Japanese gardens.  From thinking about ‘what’ a Japanese garden is, we shift to asking ‘why’ they should be part of progressive societies outside of Japan?” said NAJGA president Dr. Kendall Brown.

He adds that although Japanese gardens have been popular in the West for 150 years, the exploration of how these gardens can become a meaningful part of people’s daily lives is only beginning.

NAJGA executive director Diana Larowe notes that in Japan, the birthplace of these gardens, the public sector has taken the lead in developing contemporary gardens as civic spaces for healing. 

“For centuries, people have always known Japanese gardens to be places of natural beauty, harmony and tranquility,” she said. “We are now seeing how contemporary Japanese gardens are emerging as landscapes that may have special significance in promoting health and wellness.”

The 2014 conference keynote speaker, acclaimed Japanese garden designer Hoichi Kurisu, exemplifies how this centuries-old garden art form is finding this new niche in North America.  “Kurisu-san believes in tapping into the restorative power of nature through the medium of the Japanese garden and he has applied this philosophy to the many gardens he has designed in North America and abroad,” she adds.

One of Kurisu’s most noteworthy oeuvres to date is helping transform a struggling hospital in Lebanon, Oregon into a thriving regional medical center through the addition of a healing garden in the premises.

As part of the pre-conference activities in Chicago, participants will visit a Kurisu-designed Japanese garden at the Rosecrance Behavior Center in Rockford, Illinois that is being utilized for various therapeutic purposes including treatment for addiction behavior, post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer therapy.  Other pre- and post-conference activities on the agenda is a visit to the Anderson Japanese Garden in Rockford, Illinois, a highlights tour of Chicago and Frank Lloyd Wrights architectural legacy to the city, and a professional skills development workshop.

Aside from health and wellness perspective, the conference will also explore other emerging topics in Japanese gardening such as gardening in extreme environments, new garden design materials, lighting in the Japanese garden and gardens connected with Japanese-American history.

Go to for more details.


Garden Talk: Mandi Atkinson of Lan Su Chinese Garden

We kick off 2014 and our Garden Talk interview series with horticulturist Mandi Atkinson of the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon.  Mandi in the japanese maple tree

Q. What led you to gardening and eventually, to the Lan Su Chinese Garden? I started gardening during a period of significant personal loss. It was a way to take my mind off things, to guide me through my troubles.  It has been my passion since. What drew me to Lan Su was the banana plant and how it appeals to our auditory senses.  It’s always planted underneath the drip tiles so that one can hear the sound of the raindrops falling on its broad leaves.  I’ve always thought of plants as something that we can enjoy with our eyes, sense of smell, taste and touch. Learning this encouraged me to learn more about different design elements in the garden.

Q. What fascinates you most about your work? I find design as perhaps the most fascinating.  This space is created in such a way that it invokes all senses, sometimes all at once.  It’s also designed to be enjoyed throughout all seasons and it has certain attributes that make it larger than it actually is.  During my first few weeks working here, I actually kept getting lost in the garden!



Q. What are your favorite things in the garden? I love the windmill palm. What a multi-sensory plant!  The fibrous parts of its trunk are rough to the touch and were once used to make ropes in China.  It also has these long finger-like palm leaves that shake when the wind rushes through it.  As that happens, you hear a sound that makes me think of frogs in the spring.  The humming birds sip on the nectar of their yellow blooms in spring, followed by plump blue berries resembling the ones we see at our super markets.


Photo: Oregon Live


Q. Any favorite season? I think it’s the fall now leading up to the winter. I used to not like winters at all.  The summers were always my favorites in the past. I think it’s because of the fall color and the chrysanthemums. Chrysanthemums have always been my favorite flower, even before I worked at the Garden. Since we have a diversity of plants at the garden, the fall season brings forth a wide range of color.  Also, on rainy days, people don’t think to come to the garden and you’ll get this place all to yourself. Most of the garden is covered and there are plenty pavilions to hide out under on a rainy day.

Q. And is there anything the garden has taught you? Being observant and patient. Not letting ego get in the way, not feeling like I should be totally in control of how the garden turns out. In a Ted Talk with Michael Pollan, he said some of the best gardeners are the ones that are also good observers, who pay close attention to the ecosystem as a whole and not just the plant, insect, or soil by itself.  Just as an organ in the body can’t function by itself, a plant is also interconnected with everything else in the garden.  This is a concept I learned working at a permaculture institute in Colorado.  I see it especially here because I am here throughout the year.

Q. Any special stories involving the garden? There’s one that truly stands out from two years ago, a woman who approached me about the persimmon tree and then unloaded to me about the struggles she was facing.  She kept telling me that she felt at peace in our garden, that “she needed to be here.”  I took a half hour of my day to walk with her and just listen.  It inspired me to look further into horticulture therapy, which is what I am studying now.  I’m not sure where it will take me but I hope to eventually put together memory walks at the garden for patients with Alzheimer’s.



Q. What other gardens would you like to visit? The Kew Gardens. Their dedication to preserving biodiversity intrigues me.  They have plant specimens from all over the world, including the rare, unusual and some with the strangest adaptations.  I’ve always been interested in plants and the stories that they might have; how they are pollinated, legends they might have, or insects they might be prone to.  I find stories like these fascinating because it gives the plant an identity beyond a name.

The hills are alive… with koi at the Portland Japanese Garden

Koi at the Heavenly Falls

It is wonderful to think about creatures so smashingly colorful as the koi amidst the monochromatic landscape of an unusually cold Portland winter (although the koi themselves might be in warm, watery seclusion right now like the rest of us). It’s almost like thinking up a piscatory version of those winter mood improvement lamps.  Here are the latest tidbits on these beautiful aquatic denizens at the Portland Japanese Garden, as verified by PJG senior gardener Adam Hart:

Q. How many koi currently live in the garden? There are 35 koi in the lower pond and 16 in the upper pond. There are also 12 koi currently off-site, which we expect to return to the garden by the spring of 2014.

Q. Where did the koi come from? The koi in the upper pond came from a group that survived a large winter storm in 2008. This group includes koi from Niigata (the primary source of prize koi in Japan) and other koi whose age and origin are unknown.

We added ten new koi to this group in 2011. These koi were bred from Japan and obtained through a local koi dealer (All Japan Koi). Another batch were released in 2012 (see photo) from the Kodama Koi Farm in Hawaii.

The current school of fish in the lower pond was added in the summer of 2013. These koi were donated from a private collection in Portland.

Q. How old are the koi in the garden?  They range in age from 3 to 25 years old. In the Northwest, the average koi life span is approximately 30 years. In general, koi can live anywhere from 25 to 100 years, depending on their quality of life. The longest living koi on record lived 225 years.

Q. What do the koi eat? The koi in the garden are fed specially formulated, nutritionally balanced koi food pellets. These pellets are made primarily from fish meal and wheat germ. Koi can eat a variety of food like melon and greens but we do not feed our koi such things because of enhanced water quality issues. At the height of their activities, they are fed five times a day.

Q. How do you keep predators away? Occasionally, we have predators visit the garden such as raccoons, blue herons and hawks. Most of our koi are too big for the birds to carry away. The pond edge is steep and the ponds are deep which makes it difficult for the raccoon to wade into the water and catch the koi. Providing hiding places, such as under bridges and rocks, is also helpful in keeping predators away.

Q. What time of the year do the koi spawn? Spawning occurs during early summer. The ideal temperature is 68 F. Most of the eggs and the young will be eaten up by the larger koi, which is natural. We do, however, expect to see some of the young survive in the future.


Oudolf’s cosmology of perennials

A cosmic tale of birth, growth, fortitude, mortality and rebirth. Perennials in the garden have a way of impressing upon us how the big wheels of the universe turn in a way that stolid evergreens and even deciduous shrubs and trees cannot.

Photo via

One of their biggest champions in the garden design scene right now is probably Dutch designer Piet Oudolf who is known for his painterly compositions of perennials as blocks of color and texture in the open landscape.

Photo by Herman Wouters for the New York Times

Photo by Herman Wouters for the New York Times

He imbues his perennials with a cosmological persona, departing from the mundane categories used by botanists for classifying flower heads for example, (i.e. raceme, panicle, umbel) to invoke themes of  heaven and earth — much like an ikebana floral arrangement would in a more concise format.

In his 1999 book “Designing with Plants” (co-written with Noel Kingsbury), he offers the following observations:  

  •  SPIRES “thrust our vision skywards, reminding us of other realms, connecting heaven and earth. Spire-shaped flower heads add lift to the garden, severing its bonds to the earth.”

  • UMBELS “are, in a way, the opposite to spires, their gently rounded shapes counterbalancing the energy of the sky-seeking spires.”

  • DAISIES “remind us of the sun, not just because of their shape but also because they are so often found in sunny places: meadows, fields, and prairies.”

In seeing other-worldly meanings in the physical structure of perennials, Oudolf also invites us to contemplate the changing nature of their beauty.  A summer garden with perennials is easy to love but just as easy to dismiss if you’re only looking at the brilliance of the flowers. Oudolf believes that like a truly beautiful human being, a perennial can be just as interesting in its other stages of becoming.

“The sensitive gardener will observe that there are many more stages in the life of a perennial that are deserving of study and appreciation than simply the flowers — buds, unfurling leaves, seed heads, autumn foliage, winter’s skeletal remains.”

An Oudolf landscape is then capable of transforming from a colorful impressionist painting to something reminiscent of a monochromatic landscape work from China’s Song Dynasty era where only the forms matter.


Garden Visit:Nat’l Bonsai & Penjing Museum


This gallery contains 9 photos.

This museum, located in Washington DC’s US National Arboretum,  literally grew out of a symbolic donation from Japan of 53 venerable bonsai trees during the US Bicentennial in 1976. The original donation of 50 trees (to represent the 50 states … Continue reading

Majestic Redwoods: A Garden (Under)story


This gallery contains 10 photos.

We sought a shady garden story in the understory of the legendary trees at the Redwoods National Park and found many a serendipitous arrangement of flora combinations and other garden elements to inspire a woodland gardener. American garden writer Rick … Continue reading