LA's Japanese Garden blossoms with reclaimed water

The Donald Tillman Japanese Garden, a marvel of tranquility in the heart of the San Fernando Valley, is all the more intriguing because it is, at its core, a case study in the beauty that can come from the careful use of reclaimed water -- an important lesson in a semi-desert environment such as LA...

Dec 1st, 2004

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 24, 2004 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- The Donald Tillman Japanese Garden, a marvel of tranquility in the heart of the San Fernando Valley, is all the more intriguing because it is, at its core, a case study in the beauty that can come from the careful use of reclaimed water -- an important lesson in a semi-desert environment such as L.A.

The Garden welcomes casual strollers in search of quiet time in a stunning setting and Japanese garden enthusiasts, and is booked solid year-round for wedding photography and memorials. "We invite you to walk, to sit, to contemplate your surroundings in our garden," says Eugene Greene, the garden's director. "To do so is to experience absolute tranquility, it is to enrich one's spirit, to achieve a state of grace so elusive in our busy modern world."

Opened in 1984, the 6.5-acre Garden sits in the northeast sector of the vast Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area, nestling in between a wildlife preservation area, the L.A. River, busy city parks and a water treatment plant (which feeds it). The Garden seeks to create the atmosphere of strolling gardens of the 18th and 19th century Japanese feudal lords.

The Garden combines the traditional Japanese approach to landscaping with modern Western architecture. The Donald Tillman Administration Building, on the east side of the Garden, is a modern structure that has won many architectural awards yet evokes the feeling of a feudal castle.

Authentic in every detail, the Garden is created in the basic style known at Chisen-Kaiyushiki (wet garden with promenade). There are three main classical designs in the Garden beginning with the dry, karesansui, Zen meditation garden by the front gate. Here stones are set in symbolic arrangements and a grass-covered mound, called Tortoise Island, representing longevity.

Next along the walkway is the heart of the retreat, the expansive chisen or wet garden with a winding walkway alongside a cool dark lake. A waterfall has been created at the end of the walk.

The last section is devoted to a tea house with its authentic 4.5 tatami mat interior, and adjacent tea garden. Nearby is the Shoin Building, an authentic residential dwelling for 14th- and 15th-century aristocrats on the outside but with a modified interior for meetings and special events.

The Garden was designed by Dr. Koichi Kawana who has designed more than a dozen major Japanese gardens in the U.S. including LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), San Diego Balboa Park and the largest Japanese garden in the U.S., which is in St. Louis.

Like all Japanese gardens, this one has been designed to be enjoyed during all seasons so that as the months pass, there is an ever changing and evolving show of azaleas, cherry trees, magnolias, wisteria, iris, and lotus. The Garden is home to graceful white egret that seem to pose at the water's edge -- just for the perfect snapshot -- as well as other birdlife.

Just outside the Garden gate is a second garden devoted to native, drought tolerant plants. Built on the banks of a levee, it can be viewed only on docent-led walks. This five-year-old native garden is an inspiration to home gardeners who want to see what a mature native garden looks like as they plan their own. It is also an interesting contrast to the Japanese Garden which requires careful watering (albeit reclaimed water).

The Donald Tillman Japanese Gardens (www.thejapanesegarden.com) are located in Van Nuys, CA. Docent-led tours are by appointment only, 9:30 am to Noon, Mon-Fri. Open strolling is available Mon-Thurs., Noon to 3:15 pm. Sunday open strolling hours are 10 am to 3:15 pm. Call for times on native garden walks. Weddings, wedding photography and memorials may be arranged on Saturdays and weekdays.

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