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Use arrows to browse images, or click photo for full screen slide show.  Photos by Martha Benedict.


Like many Japanese-style gardens built in the 1950s and ‘60s, the one-acre Japanese-style garden within Descanso Gardens is a peaceful retreat and a collage of familiar elements that emulate a stroll garden, a pond-and-stream garden, a tea garden and teahouse, and a small raked-gravel garden karesansui  枯山水. Beneath the tangled canopy of coast live oak boughs, predominant plant species include azalea, japonica and sasanqua camellias, maples, cherries, “sago palm” sotetsu 蘇鉄, black pine kuromatsu 黒松, juniper and bamboo.

Conceived by Mrs. Forest Kresser Smith, then-president of the Descanso Gardens Guild, to add a note of “internationalism” to Descanso Gardens, the new exhibit opened to much local acclaim in 1966. The garden was produced by Frank Kuwahara, a member of the Descanso Gardens Guild’s board of trustees, and a steering group that included several leaders in the Japanese-American community in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley. (The Guild is the nonprofit foundation formed in 1957 that initiated many additions and improvements to the Los Angeles County-owned property and manages it to this day.) The garden itself was designed by Eijiro and Eisaku Nunokawa of Glendale. The labor was volunteered by the Japanese-American community.

The teahouse, said to have been inspired by the iconic teahouse in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, was designed by Whitney B. Smith of San Marino. The garden was expanded in 1969 with the addition of a small building intended to replicate a traditional Japanese farmhouse (minka), and included a patio and an often-photographed bridge over the stream that runs through the garden.

Descanso’s Japanese Garden will have its 50th anniversary in 2016 and we will be hosting several events there to celebrate.