Inner space

Downtown garden oasis of solitude, simplicity

The Japanese Friendship Garden just north of the Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Mass., is approximately 90 square feet and contains an assortment of plantings, including Japanese maples, yoshino cherry trees, yews and bamboo. The garden was dedicated in October 2000.

A bicyclist visits the Japanese Friendship Garden in downtown Lawrence.

After a long day of shopping in downtown Lawrence, we were hot, tired and wind-blown.

That’s why the Japanese Friendship Garden was a savior.

Shady spots beckoned us, and stone benches resembled La-Z-Boys for our worn-out shopping crew. We decided to let the garden cradle our weary, shopped-out souls.

Unbelievably, it was just us in the Japanese Friendship Garden, which is adjacent to the Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Mass.

I was quite pleased to have any seat in the park. The baby was asleep in her stroller, and I parked her under a humongous conifer. The air wafted with the scents of pine needles and cooked pizza dough – oddly enough, a lovely combination. This has always been one of my favorite Lawrence public parks, and the reasons are abundant: the sensibilities of Japanese landscapes, the stone work and the curving lines and simplicity of the form of each plant letting it speak for itself.

The location of this garden is phenomenal. Being situated above the level of the sidewalk, it lends itself to going completely undetected. As the pulse of Lawrence beats right in front of your eyes, you can quietly and contemplatively be a voyeur as the masses trod by.

The garden boasts some incredible flora as my son and I plodded on the circuitous sidewalks. He inquires about the delicate white Japanese anemone blooms that are profusely flowering and bending in the breeze. This is a fantastic naturalizing plant that is an asset to any garden. Beyond that are a slew of specimen plants that thrive in this magnificent garden. You’ll find Japanese single-bloom red peonies, Yoshino cherry trees, vibernums, nandina, Japanese maples, redbuds and whitebuds, little princess spirea, Japanese irises, hostas, oak leaf hydrangeas and fall chrysanthemums, to name a handful.

The garden was fashioned after a much larger garden in the Lawrence sister city of Hiratsuka, Japan, and was designed by their city staff to be a strolling garden for our busy downtown pedestrians. The Japanese Friendship Garden was developed as a shared cultural experience by the two modern sister cities to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of their relationship.

“This is a very peaceful place to rest while being downtown,” says Crystal Miles, horticulture manager for Lawrence Parks and Recreation. “The garden strives to incorporate three principles of Japanese gardening: nature, environment and culture using native and adapted plants, also using asymmetry and berm forms to create different areas in the garden to appreciate different views.”

While visitors to the garden no doubt will be marveling at the thriving plant life, there are many other aspects to this garden and most Japanese gardens that work effortlessly with the flora to truly create the themed aesthetic, stone work for one.

There are fabulous stones in this garden gem – their placement is meticulously thought out; their size and relationship to the world around them are all given abundant consideration before any is placed. The Lawrence city staff used ancient Japanese techniques to move the large boulders with a custom-made tripod using 12-foot cedar log poles and a 4-ton chain hoist.

“Several city staff worked together to select, haul, sort-out and finally move the giant stones,” Miles says. “They had a selection of the colorful glacial rocks from a quarry near Marysville, Kansas, with the garden committee members of Brian Kabota and Andrew Tsubaki. Dr. Tsubaki took the lead in stone selection and placement from Japanese garden principles.”

We bent down to study the swirling lines in a splendid pink-hued boulder which is rooted adjacent to the hourglass shaped pea-gravel pool with its myriad tan, brown, white and pink petite pebbles that have been used to simulate ocean water in this garden experience. A gracefully arching stone bridge pulls together the two green areas amongst the pebble and rock placement.

This beautiful garden gift to Lawrence not only has boulders and thriving plants, but it also has a handful of sculptures.

“There are pieces such as the sandhill crane, which is a symbol for happiness and granite gifts shipped from China and reassembled by Byrd Monument Company of Atchison from the city of Hiratsuka,” Miles explains. “There is a Yukimi doro stone lantern and a 13-tiered pagoda tower made of stone as well.”

Whether you’re seeking a floral-filled respite or a place to admire stone work or sculptures, the Japanese Friendship Garden offers a place to sit and rest out of the glare of the sun and removed from the hustle and bustle of the downtown frenzy.