The American public got its first glimpse of a Japanese garden when one was created for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The gardens quickly grew in popularity, with more than 250 now in North America.

In Japan, such gardens often were private, a perk of the elite or worshipful temples of contemplation. They were meant to represent utopia, or a paradise of Buddha. Key elements are water, islands of stone, plants and statuary, most of which have philosophical, religious or symbolic meanings. They differ from Western gardens, which have a greater emphasis on color and a play of textures.

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s Japanese Garden, Seisui Tei (or Garden of Pure Water), is focused around a 9-foot waterfall said to be inspired by Minnehaha Falls. It contains traditional design elements such as granite snow lanterns, a garden house, a water basin and entry gates. It’s a “reveal and conceal” approach, which means that you can never see everything within the garden at once, but discover different views as you wander. Each visit is meant to show you something new that you may have missed before. Website:

At Como Park in St. Paul, the Ordway Japanese Garden exists as a symbol of the peace and friendship between St. Paul and its sister city of Nagasaki in Japan. It opened in 1979, but was greatly renovated in 1990. Its tea house and tea garden are built in the traditional sukiya style, which is characterized by elegance and simplicity. Low plantings and lush moss create a calming environment. The Lantern Lighting Festival, the largest Japan-related festival in Minnesota, takes place in Como Park every August. Website:

The Garden of Quiet Listening at Carleton College in Northfield features lichen-covered rocks gathered within 100 miles of Northfield between 1974 and 1976. Shrubs and ground cover spread over the gently contoured “hill” to create a calming scene enhanced by the “borrowed scenery” of the long-standing arbor vitae in the background. Lake Superior beach stones become a mountain stream. A 5-foot chiseled granite lantern stands at the garden’s entrance and has a place for a candle traditionally used to light the way to a shrine or temple. Website:

The Peace Garden west of the Lake Harriet Rose Garden in Minneapolis features rock arrangements that create a microclimate for alpine plants and dwarf conifers. “The Spirit of Peace” bronze sculpture portrays the ancient craft of origami, while a bridge includes granite peace stones from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, found in the rubble of the 1945 atomic bomb blasts. Website: