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From the web site of the Birmingham Botanical Garden: “Officially opened by the Japanese Ambassador to the United States in 1967, this 7.5-acre site is actually an interwoven collection of gardens built in the Japanese style, replete with traditional architectural and garden elements. Here you can find the tea garden, the karesansui 枯山水 もみじ garden with its meditative compositions of boulders set amidst a bed of raked gravel, the hill and stream garden* with features such as the Seven Virtues Waterfall, and the small stroll garden set around Long Life Lake. Casual visitors will want to study the colorful koi, relax in the lakeside rest shelter, or take a class at the cultural pavilion. Plant lovers will enjoy exploring bamboo groves, examining our growing collection of momiji もみじ – the Japanese maples – and seeing prehistoric dawn redwoods.
“Designed by Mr. Masaji “Buffy” Morai, the Japanese Gardens officially opened in 1967 and have been one of BBG’s most popular features since then. Largely through the hard work and guidance of volunteer Doug Moore, major modifications to a large part of the gardens were finalized in 1993 when the Japanese government gave it the title of Japanese Cultural Center. That important designation was made because Mr. Kazunori Tago, of Maibashi, Japan, one of the finest miyadaiku, or Japanese temple and shrine builders, created a traditional tea house here. Toshinan, whose name means, “the house where those gathered can light a wick [of understanding] in each others’ hearts”, is a 16th-century Sukiya-style tea house, made completely from materials brought from Japan and built using only traditional tools and techniques. There are fewer than a dozen such structures in the United States, and none are finer than Toshinan. An adjacent yoritsuki 寄付 , was also designed and built by Tago-san, completing the tea garden structures. Materials were donated by the citizens of Maibashi and additional funding was provided by the Shades Valley Council of Garden Clubs and Gardens of Inverness; the yoritsuki was dedicated in honor of Eva Woodin Gambrell. Members of the Japanese Garden Society of Alabama assist with maintenance of the tea house and in cultural and educational programming.
“The Japanese Gardens are entered through a spectacular curved-top torii, or “gate to heaven”, painted a traditional bright red. This area was renovated and the master plan updated in 1988 through funds given by the Drummond Company in memory of Elza Stewart Drummond. Down the path from the torii, a tile-capped mud wall is punctuated by the entrance to the Cultural Center: the Taylor Gate, given by Dr. Wendell Taylor, with its heavy, yet intricately joined, wooden timbers. Across the stream from the tea house sits the Japanese Cultural Pavilion, which is based on the design of a rural Japanese theater. Three sides of the pavilion are removable, facilitating seasonal open air activities like classes such as sushi-making, performances such as martial arts demonstrations, and many other aspects of Japanese culture.
“A recent update of the master plan for the Japanese Gardens was completed by Zen Associates of Sudbury, Massachusetts. The firm’s principal landscape architects, Shinichiro Abe and Peter White, have an intimate knowledge of Japanese garden design and construction, and as their company’s name suggests, it is their sole specialty.”
New beds of azalea are being installed as part of that master plan. Renovations and repairs are planned throughout with perhaps the largest efforts being restoration of the watercourse and the addition of an amphitheater behind the cultural center. New maples are being added and a walkway through the bamboo thicket is planned.
The Birmingham Botanical Garden comprises 67.5 acres, 7.5 of which are the Japanese garden. The BBG is owned by the city which has an agreement with the Friends. The City handles outside reservations such as weddings. The Friends organization handles education, fundraising, capital improvements, and special events. BBG has the nation’s largest public horticulture library. The garden is open free to the public all year long.
Many thanks to Fred Spicer Jr. for the “grand tour” via golf cart and for the wealth of information shared.
When you visit this garden, be sure to stop in Leaf and Petal, the shop at the entry, for a wide variety of art, crafts, garden items and plants. There’s always news about garden tours and classes available there and on the web site.