• Southern California 2017

Sharing Culture, Creating Community: Celebrating Descanso's Japanese Garden at 50

Southern California 

Workshop & Garden Tour  

January 14 and 15, 2017

Descanso Gardens, La Canada Flintridge, CA

Southern California is home to a number of outstanding Japanese gardens that pays homage to the rich history of Japanese - American cultural presence in the area while honoring California's native landscape, horticultural legacy and ethos of innovation, sustainability and love of the outdoors. 

The North American Japanese Garden Association, in cooperation with Descanso Gardens, explores the Japanese garden experience in Southern California in a two-day regional event featuring hands-on workshops, an exhibition, lectures on horticulture and history and expert-led tours of five Asian gardens.  

Descanso Gardens, just northeast of downtown Los Angeles, is celebrating the 50th year of its Japanese garden. Descanso is embracing the garden's evolving form, its identity as a focal point for a multi-cultural community and its role in inspiring new artistic creation.  For lovers of camellia, a familiar plant in the Japanese garden, Descanso is home to the largest camellia collection in North America. 

The Japanese garden at the nearby Huntington boasts a history over 100 years as well as a legacy of evolution and renovation seen in its restored Japanese House and a new tea garden. Two other large gardens in the area -- the SuiHoen (Garden of Water and Fragrance) in Van Nuys and the Storrier-Stearns Japanese Garden in Pasadena --- illustrate how Japanese gardens can demonstrate the sustainable use of water in even an arid climate. All of these gardens feature exceptional garden architecture that makes use of Southern California's year-round warmth and indoor-outdoor lifestyle.

Happening two weeks after the famous Rose Parade draws throngs to the area, this event provides participants an opportunity to enjoy Southern California climate at its best. 

This event is eligible for continuing education units with 

the following professional organizations:


  National Association of Landscape Professionals


Special thanks to: 

  Association of Professional
     Landscape Designers
For the list of approved APLD CEUs,                      click HERE.

DAY 1 - January 14, Saturday

9 AM to 4.30 PM 



"Sharing Culture, Creating Community" Exhibition 

at the Sturt Haaga Gallery

American landscape architect Garrett Eckbo, author of the seminal 1950's book "Landscape for Living" once called Japanese gardens "the most highly refined and completely developed garden conception our world culture has ever known." Descanso Gardens education curators Emi Yoshimura and Nadia Hagan will provide a guided tour of an indoor art exhibition that captures this concept of the garden.

 The exhibit presents the social history of Descanso's Japanese garden. It uses photos of Japanese-style gardens in North America to suggest the profound level of fascination they elicit from visitors and viewers. Prints, paintings and sculptural installations reveal how Japanese gardens have inspired modern and contemporary artists in Japan and America.   

 WORKSHOP - Black Pine Pruning 

 Horticulturist and ikebana master Kaz Kitajima teaches pine pruning techniques relevant to amateur and professional gardeners. After Mr. Kitajima demonstrates basic principles and techniques, participants (individually or in pairs) will prune a 5-gallon potted pine under his expert guidance. Pruning scissors are provided. Participants may purchase the pine they worked on. 

Each workshop batch is limited to 25 persons. 

LECTURE - "Integrating Gardens & Buildings: 

Mid-Century Japanism in Southern California"

Garden and art historian Dr. Kendall Brown analyzes the fertile artistic ground from which Descanso's Japanese garden sprang in the early 1960s. This slide lecture explains how, in the wake of World War II, the American understanding of Japanese design evolved from the exotic historicism of world's fairs and tea gardens to a sophisticated integration of indoor and outdoor spaces in the service of a healthy modern life. 

LECTURE - The Human Story of Japanese Plants in California

 Naomi Hirahara, author and historian of Southern California's Japanese - American horticultural world, discusses the legendary San Gabriel Nursery and the Los Angeles Flower Mart and how these pioneering horticultural institutions are connected to Descanso Gardens and the Japanese-style garden at Descanso. Mary Ishihara Swanton, daughter of Saburo Ishihara, longtime head of the San Gabriel Nursery, will add insights from the perspective of this important conduit of Japanese plants to California. 

Camellia Forest Walk and Tutorial 

 Rachel Young, Descanso's Director of Horticulture leads a walk through the Descanso Gardens Camellia Collection - the largest in North America. Home to both rare and familiar camellias, the collection has been designated an International Camellia Garden of Excellence by the International Camellia Society.  Camellias at Descanso bloom from early autumn to spring, with dazzling display in the winter, The tour includes discussion of the origin and history of the collection, a look at rare and familiar camellias, and insights into horticultural practices that support these plants. 

Descanso Japanese Garden Tours

Garden experts David Brown and Ken Brown lead educational tours of Descanso's Japanese garden, begun in 1966 as a meandering stream landscape by Eijiro Nunokawa around Whitney Smith's modernist tea house, expanded with a dry garden and second building in 1969, and renovated in 1998 by Lew Watanabe. The tours interpret the garden from the standpoint of design, management as a community building, and as spaces of transformation and wellness. 

Group Dinner

To be held at the Akuma Sake Japanese Restaurant, 239 N Brand Blvd., Glendale, CA 91201. 

This is a no-host dinner that is not part of event registration. Please advise by e-mail: info@najga.org

 if you wish to join so NAJGA can reserve restaurant space accordingly.    

DAY 2 - January 15, Sunday

9 AM to 4 PM



All tours will be guided and expert-led, 

to be facilitated by resident curators of each garden. 

SuiHoen (Garden of Water and Fragrance) 

Tillman Water Reclamation Plant, Van Nuys, CA

We wander through this 6.5-acre, pond-style stroll garden, built in 1984, that is perhaps the masterpiece of Koichi Kawana, creator of noted Japanese-style gardens at the botanic garden in St. Louis, Chicago and Denver. From the dramatic dry landscape, along sensuously meandering paths and then to the pond-side viewing pavilion, the garden unfolds in a series of compelling scenes against the backdrops of Anthony Lumsden’s futuristic administration building and the Santa Monica Mountains.

 Storrier-Stearns Japanese Garden

Pasadena, CA

This 1.5-acre private garden, created from 1935-40 by Kinzuchi Fujii, takes us on an intimate journey across two ponds to an elegant teahouse. Renovated in 2012 by Takeo Uesugi Associates to preserve the design but create areas for social use, the garden is a rare Japanese garden made just before WWII and a model of sustainable water use. The garden curator explains his impressive program of composting and recycling.

Japanese Gardens and Chinese Garden 

The Huntington, San Marino, CA

The iconic Huntington presents a veritable history of Japanese gardens in America with its 1912 pond garden and Japanese house (originally created in Pasadena in 1903), its Zen courtyard garden and bonsai court from 1967, and now its teahouse and tea garden built as part of its centennial celebration. The curator-lead tour provides an “inside” glimpse into the three Japanese gardens. It also leaves time for attendees to explore the Chinese garden and other treasures of the Huntington.

Includes pruning demonstration by Takuhiro Yamada (Hanatoyo, Inc., Kyoto) and presentation of the Japanese House restoration by Kelly McLeod of KSM Architecture. 


KAZ "YOKOU" KITAJIMA is Ikky Shihan Riji of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana.  His dynamic arrangements use elements of bamboo, pine and wood materials as well as the most delicate flowers. He began studying Sogetsu ikebana under Seiyo Sato in Tokyo at age 18, graduated from Meisei University of Engineering and received his first teaching diploma from Sogetsu at age 22.  He then entered the employment of Musahiho Landscape Company, where he mastered the art of Japanese landscape and subsequently received a degree for Landscape Design from the Japanese government. At age 26 he came to the United States and became a member of Ikebana International.  He was director of Sogetsu, Los Angeles Branch from 1991 to 1995 and of Nanka Ikebana Kyojukai teacher’s guild from 1997 to 1999.  In 2005 he received the Japan Agriculture Society Agricultural Achievement Award, and in 2007 the Sogetsu Ikebana Overseas Award. He is the proprietor of N.K. Nursery, a nursery for Japanese Gardens, specializing in Japanese Black Pine, in the City of Industry, CA and teaches ikebana at the San Gabriel Japanese Community Center and the Pasadena Japanese Community Center.

is Professor of Asian Art History in the School of Art at California State University, Long Beach. After receiving a Ph.D. from Yale University, Dr. Brown has published books, catalogs and articles that explore such topics as modern Japanese woodblock prints, Art Deco and Japanese lacquer makers’ tools (on display at the Mingei International Museum, San Diego through March, 2017). His studies of Japanese gardens outside Japan include Japanese-style Gardens of the Pacific West Coast (1999) and Quiet Beauty: The Japanese Gardens of North America (2014).

 joined the Descanso Gardens Guild, Inc. as its Executive Director in July 2005, bringing 35 years of experience as a writer/creative director, corporate executive, college president, and consultant. Mr. Brown was the founding president of The Oxbow School in Napa, California, and served as President and CEO of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena from 1985 to 1999. During his administration, the college became the nation's leader in the integration of digital media into 2-D and 3-D design programs. He forged deep associations with many Japanese institutions and corporations and a formed ground-breaking collaboration with Samsung. He earned an M.A. from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and graduated from Dartmouth College.

RACHEL YOUNG is Director of Horticulture and Garden Operations at Desanso Gardens. She is responsible for leading and managing all aspects of Descanso Gardens as a public garden, including design, horticulture, collections management, and displays. She started studying and sketching plants of the Midwest prairies at Carleton College. After moving to California and cultivating an understanding of the local flora with the National Park Service, she received her master’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology from UCLA. She has become familiar with the flora of different regions of the world, and she has participated in botanical research in Puerto Rico, Ecuador, New Zealand and Australia. Young has taught botany, horticulture and conservation for UCLA Extension.
NAOMI HIRAHARA a writer and journalist, is the former editor of Rafu Shimpo, a local Japanese-English newspaper; an award-winning mystery novelist; and an author of several books about Japanese culture in the United States, including Green Makers: Japanese American Gardeners in Southern California (2000), published by the Southern California Gardeners' Federation. Other work include two biographies for the Japanese American National Museum, An American Son: The Story of George Aratani, Founder of Mikasa and Kenwood (2000) and A Taste for Strawberries: The Independent Journey of Nisei Farmer Manabi Hirasaki (2003). She also compiled a reference book, Distinguished Asian American Business Leaders (2003), and a book for the Southern California Flower Growers, Inc., A Scent of Flowers: The History of the Southern California Flower Market (2004).
 is Education Programs Manager at Descanso Gardens. She oversees the creation and management of the Gardens’ diverse public programs, from educational experiences for school children to summer concerts. She has more than 11 years of experience as an informal education and training specialist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Under her guidance, the Family Tuesday series has expanded into the World Rhythms performance series, which celebrates international cultures. Ms. Yoshimura holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biological sciences from Stanford University.

                                         RECOMMENDED HOTELS AND GETTING THERE

Descanso Gardens is located near the intersection of the 210 and 2 freeways, and is a 20-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles. Access the Google map HERE

For participants traveling by air, the recommended itinerary is to fly to the Hollywood Burbank Airport (Bob Hope Airport) and stay at Glendale, CA which is 10 minutes away from the airport and 10 minutes away from Descanso. The airport offers direct or easy connections to a number of major destinations in the West Coast and East Coast. The Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is also about 25 miles away (1-hour drive) to Glendale. 

Glendale offers a number of reasonable priced options for accommodation. The Hilton Los Angeles North / Glendale 

(100 West Glenoaks Blvd., Glendale, CA 91202) currently offers room rates starting at $160.00.  



Lunch is included on both days and the January 15 garden tour includes bus transportation. 

NOTE: Descanso Gardens members should contact the garden membership staff 

for the registration passcode required to register with a member discount. 

If you need assistance with registration between December 18 to 30, 

please send us an e-mail at info@najga.org or gmorrissey@najga.org.


January 14 and 15

NAJGA Member


Garden Member


General Public 


1 DAY 

January 14 only

NAJGA Member


Garden Member


General Public 


1 DAY 

October 7 only


January 15 only

NAJGA Member


Garden Member


General Public