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The Fall Garden / TOUR

Every garden tells a story

September 27, 2007|Bettijane Levine | Times Staff Writer

THE 2-acre Storrier-Stearns garden in Pasadena, one of Southern California's few unaltered Japanese-style estate gardens designed before World War II, will open its gates for a rare public tour this weekend.

Created by master landscaper Kinzuchi Fujii in the 1930s, the garden retains his original plan and many architectural and ornamental features installed before Fujii's internment during the war. Privately owned and recently renovated, the garden includes ponds, bridges, waterfalls and a teahouse.

The Storrier-Stearns property is part of a daylong tour Sunday demonstrating the history and artistic legacy of Japanese landscape design in the Los Angeles area. "Cultivating L.A.: 100 years of Japanese-Style Garden Making" features five significant sites whose design and history will be explored. The event is co-hosted by the Los Angeles Conservancy, the Japanese American National Museum, the Garden Conservancy and the California Garden and Landscape History Society.

"The impact of Japanese tradition on Los Angeles gardens has been huge right up to the present day," says Judy Horton, garden designer and California Garden and Landscape History Society board member. Each garden on the tour represents an aspect of that legacy, she says.

"Although each can be seen through the filters of time and culture," she says, "each can also be appreciated for what it reveals about the essence of nature: the poetry found in a single stone or the dignity of a single ancient gnarled tree."

The Roosevelt High School garden in Boyle Heights originally was built by the school's Japanese Club in the 1930s. The garden was neglected during World War II and eventually destroyed. In the 1990s, members of the school's largely Latino student body learned about the demolished haven and rebuilt it, naming it the Garden of Peace as a monument to the various cultures that have passed through the school.

The small James Irvine Japanese garden -- a hidden treasure in Little Tokyo that's also known as the Garden of the Clear Stream -- features a 170-foot stream meant to symbolize the experience of generations of Japanese Americans. It was designed by landscape architect Takeo Uesugi, who is overseeing its redesign. Also included on the tour are the residential gardens of Norton Avenue in Leimert Park and bonsai demonstrations at San Gabriel Nursery & Florist.

Trudi Sandmeier, education director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, says this is the first time that her organization has participated in a garden tour.

"Landscape is often a significant element of the history of a site -- equally as important as the building it surrounds," she says. "It can be more difficult to preserve than the structure. These gardens all tell different inspiring stories about the Japanese American experience in Southern California and the influence their culture has had on the landscape."

The self-driving tour runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. General admission is $30. For more details and for tickets, call (213) 623-2489 or go to

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