Descanso Gardens’ Japanese Garden

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Descanso Gardens is excited to be the recipient of a very special gift that grows peace. On Sunday, Jan. 19, at 10 a.m., two “Hiroshima Survivor Trees” will be presented to Descanso from the Rotary Club of Little Tokyo’s Heiwa: Hiroshima Survivor Tree group (Heiwa means “peace” in Japanese).

These persimmon trees grew from the seed of a plant that survived the first atomic bomb dropped on in Hiroshima.

“We are very honored to be receiving these trees,” said Juliann Rooke, executive director. “They have a beautiful story to tell and will be great additions to our Japanese Garden.”

When the atomic bomb devastated Hiroshima in August 1945, killing 140,000 people, survivors thought nothing would grow there for 75 years. To their amazement, blackened trunks of trees put out new shoots in the spring of 1946.

Survivors of the bombing described feeling of sense of hope when they saw the shoots growing from trees they thought to be dead. Seeds were taken from these plants and now two persimmon trees grown from the seeds will soon have homes at Descanso Gardens.

“I live in La Cañada and am quite aware of Descanso Gardens’ mission and the importance in the community,” said Makiko Nakasone, charter president of the Rotary Club of Little Tokyo and a member of the Rotary’s Heiwa group. “We thought the gardens would take good care of the Survivor Trees for many years to come as a symbol of peace and hope.”

Hiroshima Survivor Tree Re-Planting is a project by Rotary’s Heiwa: Hiroshima Survivor Tree, a group of Rotarians in Japan, the U.S. and Russia. Other survivor trees can be found at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta, the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Little Tokyo, Downtown L.A., Storrier Steans Japanese Garden in Pasadena, Verdugo Woodland Elementary School, Monte Vista Elementary School and Wilson Middle School in Glendale Unified School District.

Descanso Gardens is located at 1418 Descanso Dr. in La Cañada Flintridge. The event is included in the price of regular admission and is free for members.

Founded as a public garden in 1953, Descanso Gardens is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $9 for adults; $6 for seniors and students with a school I.D.; $4 for children 5 to 12; and free for ages 4 and younger. For more information, call (818) 949-4200 or visit

Favorite Destination

For some 50 years, the Japanese Garden has been a favorite destination of Descanso Gardens visitors. Measuring a generous acre, this green space feels almost like a world unto itself. Tucked beneath the shade of coast live oaks, the Japanese Garden includes many plants that originated in Asia, including camellias, black pines, mondo grass, flowering cherry trees and Japanese maples. The peace of the garden is punctuated by the sounds of birds, water burbling in the stream and the rustle of leaves in the breeze.

The garden includes features found in many different styles of gardens in Japan, including the stroll garden, the stream-and-pond garden, the tea garden, and the raked-gravel garden (karesansui), often called (incorrectly) a Zen garden.

The Japanese Garden opened in 1966, culminating years of work by a dedicated group of volunteers, including Mrs. Forrest Kresser “Judge” Smith, founding president of the Descanso Gardens Guild, and guild board member Frank Kuwahara. The general manager of the Southern California Flower Market, Kuwahara engaged the support of the Japanese American community in the project.

The garden was designed by noted landscape architect Eijiro Nunokawa of Los Angeles, while the teahouse was designed by architect Whitney R. Smith of San Marino. The teahouse was operated by Pasadena restaurateur Robert Kawashima with his sister, Mary Matsumoto. Kawashima also funded construction of a gift shop built to emulate a minka, or Japanese farmhouse, which was designed by architect Kenneth Masao Nishimoto.

The garden was expanded to include the now-iconic red bridge that spans the stream. The teahouse and the minka served as the Descanso Gardens food concession and gift shop for 15 years until the Courtyard complex was built in 1982.

Perhaps as important as plants and physical features of Descanso’s Japanese Garden has been its role in bringing people of many cultures together in an extended conversation about what it means to be part of a multi-cultural community such as the one that has evolved in Los Angeles. The story of Japanese and Japanese American people in Southern California is an important strand in that collective history.

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