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Asian Gardens in America

Updated on August 20, 2014

Transplanting Beauty and Artistry

Asian gardens are probably the most aesthetically pleasing gardens in the world from the standpoint of artistry. All gardens are beautiful, but somehow, the Asian style of designing a garden appeals to me more than, say, a formal garden in front of a large mansion in England.

I have only had the opportunity to visit three Asian gardens, all in Arizona. I tell about those. There are ways you can bring an Asian garden into your home. One is by cultivating a bonsai, and another is by having a miniature Zen garden in your living room.

The tree is a Japanese White Pine bonsai. The bonsai photo is by Sage Ross and are distributed under the GNU Free Documentation License and the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license. All other photos in this Lens are mine.

Amazon sells bonsai, so if you are interested in growing one, it's a good place to look.

Chinese Cultural Center

Phoenix, Arizona

The Chinese Cultural Center is a beautiful place, with traditional Chinese architecture. The buildings surround the parking lot on three sides, and are full of little shops, restaurants, and a martial arts school. Around the outside of two sides of the buildings is a Chinese garden. It has the traditional Moon Gate and a pond, and it is very beautiful.

When they built a Chinese Cultural Center in Tucson, they didn't use traditional architecture. This makes me sad. I don't know if they will have a garden or not. They do have two library lions, so not all is lost.

Chinese Cultural Center Garden

Observe the Moon Gate in the distance. This is a traditional feature of a Chinese garden.

Garden with Moon Gate

Here is a closer view of the Moon Gate. Moon Gates were intended as an inviting entrance into the garden of a wealthy person, but are more widely used today. They often have religious symbols on them. The sloping roof represents the half moon.

Calligraphy above the Moon Gate

I have no idea what it says. If you know, please write about it in my guestbook. :)

Architectural Detail

Observe also that there is a string of Christmas lights on the edge of the roof on the left. It is common, at least in Arizona, for some ethnic groups to display Christmas lights year round.

Architectural Detail

This appears to be a very fancy gate, which is along the street, past the Moon Gate. Under the roof, it is completely open to the outdoors. You can see Christmas lights faintly lining the eaves.

Open Space with Roof

This is just a roof on pillars, with a Chinese lantern. It is open to the outdoors, rather than having any walls. My recollection is that the floor is raised a couple of steps above the sidewalk in the garden.

Another Location, a Similar Chinese Lantern

Chinese lanterns are made of paper, silk, or vinyl. They are used outside businesses to attract attention, and in celebrations. Traditionally, they are designed so they can be collapsed for storage.

Looking Back to the Moon Gate - from the other side

You can also see the large fancy gate alongside the street. This is the view standing under the Chinese lantern. Notice the gazebo on the left in the background.

Another View of a Large Gate

There were actually two gates like this. This one doesn't have the width with ceiling the other one does. The location of the gazebo and Moon Gate helps to show where the gate was located as well.

Another Chinese Lantern

in a different location. You can see the other one in the distance on the left.

Looking at Banana Trees

There were other trees I didn't recognize.


This is an older style, closer to the original pictographs. Notice the Christmas lights again.

Another Little Open-Air Building

This one has a couple of sides. It's a nice place to sit, rest, and cool off. You can see just a little bit of the pond on the lower right.

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The Pond

This is located toward the back of the garden, around the bend.

The Pond - Another view

Notice the low, crooked walkway on a bridge over the corner of the pond, on the left. These kinds of walkways are well liked as a design element. Causing a person to wander, to meander, is part of the goal.

Koi in the Pond

The pond had a few large koi (Japanese carp) in it.

Walkway by the Pond

A better view.

In the back, under the shade, were some plaques, bronze if I recall correctly. I don't remember what was on them, but I seem to recall it was some kind of memorial.

Pink Water Lily

The pond had water lilies in it, of different colors. Water lilies are not common in Arizona, though I know a few places where they can be found. I am quite fond of them. Some people keep koi ponds, and belong to a club for koi fanciers. These people often put water lilies in their ponds, too.

Yellow Water Lilies

Deep Pink Water Lily

This is my favorite color.

Looking Back over the Pond - From the low bridge walkway

Japanese Friendship Garden

This garden was a gift to the people of Phoenix, Arizona, from the sister city of Himeji, Japan. At the time, it was only open on Saturdays (I made one futile trip to see it, and you can't see much from the outside). I hope to go back in the fall.

View toward the Bridges

In this photo, you will see a curved bridge on the right, and there is a crooked walkway bridge barely visible on the left. The garden is near the center of Phoenix, close to downtown, and you can see city buildings in the distance.

Pond with Teahouse

Looking in the opposite direction, you can see the teahouse. The teahouse is where the tea ceremony (cha no yu) is held. The whole purpose of the ceremony is to serve green tea. It is an elaborate and lengthy ceremony and prescribes every action on the part of host and guests. For example, the guests are supposed to admire a carefully selected single art work which the host has chosen for the occasion. The ceremony even prescribes how the cups of tea are to be held.

My mother instilled in me a love for Japanese art. She wrote a major paper for college on the tea ceremony, and this is where I first learned about it.

"Cha" means "tea". "No" is a particle word, something like a preposition, which has a gazillion translations into English, depending on context. A friend of mine wrote a master's thesis just on this one Japanese word, doing all her research in Japanese. I am in awe of her skills!

Customarily, Japanese artists like to put little flaws in things because they know perfection is impossible. The teahouse is an example of a structure that would have a deliberate flaw built in.

Japanese Garden

Another view. Notice the lantern just above and to the right of center.

With a shapely tree on the right, reminiscent of a bonsai.

View with Lantern

For the moment, the final view.

I got a picture of the waterfall, but it was in the shade, and didn't photograph well.

Little Oases

There are a few places I run across from time to time that will have a little bit of beauty, such as the one in the next photo.


This is located in Tucson. I photographed this scene many years ago, and I don't know if it is still there. There was also a koi pond at this location.

Zen Garden

Zen Buddhism is a religion of Asia. I have read a few books about Zen, and they didn't make any sense to me. I even had a discussion with a westerner who accepts Zen as his religion, and I quickly discovered you should forget logic and rational thinking. Maybe I am mischaracterizing it, but that's the way it seemed to me. Be that as it may, it is a philosophy that has sparked the development of a particular style of garden.

The purpose of a Zen garden is relaxation and meditation.

The garden usually consists of interesting boulders with sand around them. A large rake is used to make patterns in the sand. Traditionally, the sand is raked into concentric circles around the rocks and straight lines everywhere else. These represent water, and the way water flows around rocks. Walking around a Zen garden is supposed to give a sense of peace. Generally, there isn't much in the way of vegetation in a Zen garden. These gardens are more popular in Japan, from what I have heard.

Zen Garden in Tucson

Located in the Tucson Botanical Gardens, this garden is fairly new.

Next to the garden there is a small table with a tiny Zen garden in it. There is a small rake visitors can use to rake the sand around the rocks.

Since Zen gardens evoke a sense of quiet, I will now let the garden speak for itself.

Both Gardens

The big one and the tabletop one.

Return to the Chinese Cultural Center

Recently, I revisited the Chinese Cultural Center because they have added a number of stone sculptures I wanted to photograph.

I learned that the Center was built by the Chinese communist government, apparently. I don't find that particularly pleasing, but it won't keep me from enjoying the beauty of the garden.

One other thing I continue to notice is that the plants are almost never being used as a design element in the garden.

This photo shows a few of the philosophers who are now depicted in stone in the garden.

I love their personalities.

I wasn't able to find any labels anywhere, so I have no idea which philosophers are being depicted.

Koi Pond

On the other end of the garden.

In the heat, the koi were hiding in the shade next to the walled walkway, where it was cooler, I imagine.

Statue with a Buddha pose.

King and queen with a horse.


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