Bob Kataoka and Kai Kawahara inspect pines near Denver for possible inclusion in the garden. (photo from Rocky Mountain Bonsai Club history)
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Use arrows to browse images, or click photo for full screen slide show.  Photos by Bill Eger and courtesy of U.S. Japanese Gardens

Description:  (Hover over highlighted terms for definitions)

Denver Botanic Garden’s Sho-fu-En is designed in the chisen kaiyuushiki 泉回 style, with a central pond and strolling pathways.  With an urban skyline in the background, this beautiful Japanese garden with native boulders and pines is amazingly peaceful. Prominent features include kame-jima  亀島 (turtle island), tsurushima 鶴島 (crane island), and treasure ship takara-bune 宝船.  There are two noteworthy stone lanterns among those in Shofu-en.  The large Yukimi doro 織部灯籠 – Sometimes called “Snow-viewing Lantern“. guards the edge of the pond, casting light over the water to mark the promintory stone is perches above.  The 250 year-old kasuga lantern is a gift from Denver’s sister city, Takayama Shi, Japan, in 1964.  There is also an Oribe Lantern 織部灯籠 near the wisteria arbor.

The garden is home to the Bill Hosokawa Bonsai Pavilion & Tea Garden. The bonsai pavilion features trees from the Rocky Mountain Region, while the bonsai greenhouse shelters tropical and other sensitive bonsai plants. In addition, our bonsai collections include traditional, tropical and subtropical bonsai.

The tea house was a gift from the foundation of Ella Mullen Weckbaugh, daughter of entrepreneur and philanthropist, John Kernan Mullen.  This authentic Japanese structure was built in Nagano, japan, shipped to the garden, and reassembled by Japanese craftsmen. The  Denver Botanic Gardens’ Tea Ceremony Society, Shofu-Kai, provides authentic ceremonies for visitors.


From U.S. Japanese Gardens

After obtaining his degree in horticulture in Japan and interning at the Chicago Botanic Garden, Akiyoshi (Ebi) Kondo joined Denver Botanic Gardens as a Horticulturist in April 2000 and was in charge of the display gardens and collections.


A simple clean pond edge, a clear reflection, careful maintenance, the contributions of garden designers and gardeners since 1978 all add up to the shibui feeling of Sho-fu-en.

In 2003, Ebi was promoted to Senior Horticulturist and took responsibility of Sho-Fu-En, Denver Botanic Garden’s Japanese Garden. Originally designed by Koichi Kawana, construction on the two acre garden began in August 1978. Sho-fu-en, Garden of the Pines and Wind, was dedicated June 23, 1979.

“This was designed to be a provincial garden. Gifu-ken and Takayama-shi are next to the Nagano mountains, a very rugged area. Here we are amid the Rocky Mountains, also a rugged area,” Kondo said. “This was one of Kawana-san’s last major gardens. It’s very shibui, very quiet.”

Koichi Kawana designed gardens in St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; Memphis Tennessee; Los Angeles and San Diego, California among others. The Hokkaido native who became a U.S. citizen in 1971 died in 1990 at the age of 60.

tea house interior

Tea house interior with chairs set up for demonstration audience to the right

In 1979, the tea house was constructed in Japan “very mountain style,” said Kondo. “Not an ostentatious display; very good size for demonstrating tea ceremony.”

Built by Kumo Construction Company in Nagano, the tea house was disassembled and shipped to Denver. Company president Mr. Toshitame Hirabayashi and eight co-workers reassembled the teahouse along with the bridge and entry gate in 14 days. The teahouse was donated by the Eleanore Mullen Weckbaugh Foundation.


When the garden started, more than 130 character pines were moved from nearby Estes Park by the Rocky Mountain Bonsai Club. Permits were obtained from the U.S. Forest Service to collect Ponderosa pines. “Japanese gardens encourage the use of native plants. We have about 50 percent natives in this garden,” Kondo said.

In 1977, Bob Kataoka, Kai Kawahara, Harold Sasaki, Floyd Sunshine, Bob Krueger, Keith Jepson, Larry Jackel and Malcolm Correll manned the first flatbed truck collecting eight or ten pines that trip. Kai Kawahara, was a gardener at Sho-fu-en from 1980 to 1993. He was one of eight founding members of the earlier Denver Bonsai Club that merged to form RMBC.

As sometimes happens in the history of Japanese gardens in America, there came a period of disinterest, low funding and lack of maintenance. By 2000, the garden was in disrepair. “A garden without maintenance for even one season may take ten seasons to reclaim,” Kondo said.

Sadafumi Uchiyama

Sadafumi Uchiyama at a NAJGA regional meeting in Chicago, September 2011

He undertook the initiative of the garden’s restoration reaching out to Mr. Seki the Consulate General of Japan in Denver and ultimately partnering with Mr. Sadafumi Uchiyama from Portland Japanese Garden.

In 2007 with help from the Hosokawa Grant, Kondo founded Denver Botanic Gardens tea ceremony guild Sho-Fu-Kai. The guild’s mission is to expose the public and garden patrons to Japanese Tea Ceremony and support the Sho-fu-en. A new machiai, rojimon (gate), obote senko design, uchi roji (inner path), and soto roji (outerpath), were added to the tea garden, opening to the public in mid-June this year.

Now, Sho-fu-en is one of a few signature gardens at Denver Botanic Garden.”We work hard to keep our volunteers happy and enthusiastic,” Kondo said. “We have monthly cultural nights, and regularly scheduled nature hikes and movie nights.

“We need to continue developing and implementing a program, a vision for our garden,” Kondo said. “Otherwise, it is an ornament, not a garden.”

Future programs in development at Sho-fu-en include the Horticultural Therapy Program and Volunteer Docent Program.

Kondo and Uchiyama are among the leadership members of the North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA), an organization newly formed for the purpose of networking public Japanese Gardens in North America. Kondo also is a member of the Japan America Society of Denver.

Other exhibits at Denver Botanic Gardens:

bonsai show

The bonsai club continues to hold juried shows and sales at Denver Botanic Gardens. This one was held Father’s Day weekend 2012.

In addition to the Japanese garden, there are displays in other parts of the botanic garden grounds.

In mid-June 2012, a bonsai pavilion and courtyard opened as a memorial to the late news writer Bill Hosokawa. It was funding from the Alice and Bill Hosokawa Fellowship that helped Sho-fu-kai, the tea ceremony guild, form in 2008.

For more information on bonsai history and World War II internment camps, please see

For more information on Denver Botanic Gardens, please visit