By Leona Jacobs
On 2016 September 16-17, the North American Japanese Garden Association held its regional conference in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. It was a small and intimate conference that discussed Japanese gardens using the local Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden as an exemplar.
The Garden opened in 1967 as an expression of appreciation for the cultural ties Lethbridge has with Japan thanks to its citizens of Japanese ancestry. Conference attendees learned about the history of the Garden’s conception and building, its “dark period” of overgrowth, and its reclamation and repair leading to discussions around cultural preservation, placement and proportion of plants and structural elements to achieve views and the aesthetic and physiological benefits of pruning. Demonstrations of ikebana and bonsai provided context. Interactive sessions on rock placement and stepping stone path construction provided practice. Of note was a session on experiencing the Garden using senses other than sight: hearing, feeling, smell.
I attended this conference not really knowing what to expect. I am in the process of reclaiming my overgrown garden and I hoped the conference might inspire my thinking about this project. Mission accomplished! Conceptually, the conference was an excellent reintroduction to the Japanese aesthetic which I will use to inform my own garden reclamation project. More to the point, however, is what I learned about the Nikka Yuko itself. While I have always appreciated our Nikka Yuko Garden, I now have a much deeper appreciation for this oasis in the middle of our city. For me, the conference was time well spent.