June 22, 2009 | Sarada Krishnan, Director of Horticulture & Center for Global Initiatives

Denver Botanic Gardens’ Japanese Garden is an authentic traditional Japanese garden reflecting the unique environment of its Colorado setting. The garden is named Sho-Fu-En, meaning “garden of the pines and wind,” both of which are typical of the natural environment of Colorado. The main feature of this garden is the abundant use of beautifully aged character pines, Pinus ponderosa, collected and donated by members of the Rocky Mountain Bonsai Club. The boulders used in the garden came from the mountains nearby.

Sho-Fu-En was designed by Professor Koichi Kawna, President of Environmental Design Associates in Los Angeles, California. He was also the Principal Architectural Associate and lecturer in Japanese art, architecture and landscape design at the University of California, Los Angeles. The garden construction started in August 1978 with the dedication on June 23, 1979.

The basic style of this garden is called Chisen-kaiyushiki, which means wet garden with promenade. The selection of plantings and design in this style are arranged in such a way that the focal points of the garden move from one point to another during the various seasons. The garden design incorporates many auspicious symbolic objects in accordance with the traditional Japanese concept of the garden as an expression of paradise. All facets of the garden aim to instill a feeling of tranquility. The most notable design features are the abundance of evergreen plants, the large black stones (monsonite), and the waterways. The evergreens symbolize longevity and happiness. These are complemented with plantings of deciduous trees and shrubs symbolizing the rhythms of nature as they bloom in spring and change color in the autumn. The large black monsonite stones form the backbone of the garden and were placed throughout the landscape before planting the garden. Water flows from east to west beginning with the large waterfall on the east side of the garden, which is in keeping with the Japanese garden tradition. The lake has three islands. The largest island is named the Crane Island (Tsurushima) and the two smaller islands represent the Tortoise (Kameshima) and the Treasure Ship (Takaro-bune).

Another important feature of this garden is the Japanese Teahouse. Constructed in Nagano-hen, Japan, by the Kumo Construction Company, each piece of the tea house was carefully disassembled, numbered and shipped to Denver. Mr. Toshitame Hirabayashi, President of the company, and eight Japanese co-workers reassembled the teahouse along with the bridge and entry gate in 14 days. The teahouse was donated by the Eleanore Mullen Weckbaugh Foundation. The teahouse is used from mid-April to mid-October to demonstrate the tea ceremony. The tea ceremony guild, Sho-Fu-Kai was formed last year with funds from The William and Alice Hosokawa Fellowship to provide cultural enrichment to the community.

In 2003, Mr. Sadafumi Uchiyama of Portland, Oregon was hired to create a master plan for the restoration and revitalization of Sho-Fu-En. Phase I and II of the master plan have been implemented and Mr. Uchiyama is currently working on revising the master plan to include a Bonsai Pavilion and bonsai collection display, which is planned to be built in 2010. Thanks to staff (Senior Horticulturist, Ebi Kondo and Gardener, Hiro Hiraga) and volunteers, the garden is maintained at the highest design standards, creating a peaceful retreat for relaxation, contemplation and meditation in the heart of Denver.


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