A visit to the Fort Worth Japanese Garden

Japanese American architect Albert Komatsu designed the main gate. photo by Keiji Uesugi

I had the opportunity to visit for the first time the Japanese Garden at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden in Texas during the week of March 6. My trip was part of the 2024 International Japanese Gardens Conference at the FWBG where I gave a presentation on the significance of Japanese gardens in the story of the Japanese American experience. I was not sure what to expect, but upon entering through the northeast gate, I was transported to an immersive garden experience.

The 7.5-acre garden features a meandering pathway that loops around a stream and pond that connects a series of garden spaces. Throughout the garden you can find finely crafted wood structures, bridges, stone elements, and aesthetically pruned trees and shrubs that reflect a deep respect for the traditions of Japanese gardens.

I was particularly drawn to the curving shapes of the pond edge that rhythmically expanded and contracted the body of water with the landscape edge. This creates spatial asymmetric balance throughout the garden, which is a fundamental Japanese garden design principle called in-yo, or yin yang in Chinese. When the pond narrows into tight streams and spillways, this brings screening trees and plants tighter together, which closes views to other parts of the garden while framing specific elements such as a bridge or sculpted Japanese black pine. This technique is called miegakure “Hide and Reveal,” and it is used masterfully throughout the garden as new spaces continue to be revealed as you walk along the pond.

The Karesansui Garden is framed by a shaded wood deck which offers views from all angles. photo by Keiji Uesugi

Although the strolling garden makes up the main structure of the Japanese garden, there are also smaller gardens but equally impactful. The Karesansui “Dry Garden” is located near the main gate, and it is comprised of large sculptural boulders carefully set within a rectangular space filled with white-grey gravel immaculately raked in curvilinear and straight lines. This garden is inspired by those found at Buddhist temples such as Ryoan-ji and Daisen-in.

The idea for the Japanese garden began in the 1960s when local leaders and officials explored options for what to do with the former gravel pit. The city hired Kingsley Wu, professor of environmental living at Texas Woman’s University, to develop the master plan, which included three major pools, a waterfall, spillways, and islands. (us-japanesegardens.com). Construction began in 1970 and was completed by 1973.

I discovered that the Japanese garden’s history also intersects with the Japanese American experience when I looked into who designed the main gate near the gift shop. The designer was Japanese American architect Albert Komatsu, who founded Albert Komatsu and Associates in 1959 and is now called Komatsu Architecture. He is a Nisei who was incarcerated during World War II in Idaho, drafted for service in the U.S. Army and eventually settled into a career in architecture. (authentictexas.com/preservation-is-a-privilege/).

The Japanese garden is part of the historic 109-acre Fort Worth Botanic Garden, which was originally constructed in 1933 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The botanic garden includes a terraced rose garden, fragrance garden butterfly garden, rainforest conservatory, forest boardwalk, and recently built BRIT building that exemplifies environmental sustainability. The FWBG is extremely child-friendly with explorative learning activities available in the visitor center to take out to the gardens, and currently several animatronic dinosaurs with sound can be found throughout the garden campus.

The FWBG and Japanese garden are open year-round, and the admission price is nominal given all the areas you can explore. I hope to visit again sometime in the spring to see the blossoming cherry blossom trees or in autumn to see the fall foliage. Whether you live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area or visiting the region, I highly recommend making a stop to the garden and experiencing it yourselves!

Nichi Bei News columnist Keiji Uesugi, PLA is the principal of the landscape architecture firm, TUA Inc. in West Covina, Calif., and a faculty member of the landscape architecture department at Cal Poly Pomona University. A licensed landscape architect with more than 20 years of professional experience, he is an expert in cultural landscapes and Japanese gardens of North America. He can be reached at keijiu@gmail.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei News.

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