Though most gardens are peaceful, Japanese gardens are among the most tranquil places to be found in the frantic environs of the Los Angeles area. It's a great stress-reducer to observe and appreciate the natural and man-made details and the quiet.
The traditional Japanese garden is laid out with a circular path around a lake or pond filled with exotically colored koi (carp). The Zen ideals of simplicity and understated beauty are worked into the landscape. Such gardens often contain natural symbols. Rocks are usually arranged in odd-numbered groups. Three rocks placed one on top of the other may suggest a crane. Water represents purity, while black pines symbolize eternity. Different interpretations are possible, so consult brochures at the gardens and ask docents about symbolism.
None of the following Japanese gardens allow picnicking, and admission is free except where noted.
James Irvine Garden, Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, 244 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles, (213) 628-2725. This 8,500-square-foot garden, called Seiryu-En (Garden of the Clear Stream), is open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m., except holidays. Park on the street or in nearby lot. Pick up a brochure in Room 505, take the elevator down to the basement level and follow the corridor (where a plaque gives a history of the garden) to the east end. A gravel path winds over a wooden bridge and around a waterfall, well, bamboo fences, stream and a variety of Japanese and native Southern California plants and flowers.
Rose Hills Memorial Park Japanese Garden, inside Gate No. 10, 3900 S. Workman Mill Road, Whittier, (213) 699-0921. A 5-acre garden with a 2 1/2-acre lake is one of the features of this large memorial park. Pick up a West Park map at the Visitors Center in the Pageant of Roses Garden. Guided tours available. The Lake of the Roses contains koi, and mallard ducks reside there. Other highlights include an arched bridge, an authentic Shogun monument, a meditation house called azumaya and stone lanterns. Open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.
UCLA Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, Bel-Air, (213) 825-4574. Limited parking makes reservations a necessity to visit this 2-acre garden. Individual tours given Tuesdays 10 a.m.-1 p.m.; Wednesdays noon-3 p.m. Guided tours for groups can be arranged for Wednesday or Friday mornings. Make reservations about two months ahead. No pets or unaccompanied children. The hillside terrain includes a tricky stepping-stone path leading to the top of the mountain. The garden was given to UCLA in 1965 by department store magnate Edward Carter. The main gate, teahouse, bridges and shrine were built in Japan and reassembled here by Japanese artisans.
Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden, Cal State Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, (213) 494-8885. The main entrance to the campus is State University Drive, off Bellflower Boulevard. Turn left on Earl Warren Drive, go one block to the garden. Open Tuesday-Thursday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays noon-5 p.m. Docent-guided tours available. Enter this strolling garden through natural-wood double doors; you'll find two waterfalls, two bridges, a secluded teahouse, Zen garden and a lake filled with koi. The horticultural emphasis is on flowering plants and sculptured pines. No food, smoking, bicycles or skateboards permitted.
Friendship Garden, Cal State Dominguez Hills, 1000 E. Victoria St., Carson, (213) 516-3804. Ask for directions at the campus entrance. This 1,125- square-foot garden, called Shinwa-En, is in the atrium area of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Building. Open daily during daylight hours; parking nearby. Started in 1978, the garden is reminiscent of an island dominated by mountains and forests; it contains more than 60 tons of Malibu rock. A dry stream bed, suggesting the symbolic purity of water, meanders through the garden. A teahouse, stone artifacts, water basin and stone lanterns are other features. Brochures from the Office of Publications in the library explain the garden's symbolism.
The New Otani Hotel and Garden, 120 S. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles, (213) 629-1200. Open 8 a.m.-11 p.m. daily, this unusual half-acre garden is on the Garden Level (third floor) of the hotel. Climb the small hill, which overlooks downtown businesses. Inspired by a 400-year-old garden in Tokyo, the garden contains pebble cement walkways, quiet ponds, plants, a waterfall, stone lanterns and Sado Island red stones from the private collection of the late Yonetaro Otani, founder of the hotel chain. Growing here are about 50 kinds of plants or shrubs, as well as some trees that are surprisingly large for a roof garden. Overlooking it all is a Japanese restaurant called A Thousand Cranes. Parking at the hotel is not validated.