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Structured Elegance in Japanese Gardens

By Alexa Chipman Apr. 15, 2017

Rippling koi ponds filled with colorful fish, dramatic arched bridges, carefully tended shrubbery, pristine gravel gardens and bright blossoms come to mind with Japanese gardens. There is a sense of peace when strolling through the green paradise, mingling formal planning with the wild beauty of a natural forest.

I’ve spent hours sitting on a small bench nestled in a quiet corner, reading or gazing out at what comes close to perfection. Even when crowded and filled with screaming, exhausted children, somehow these gardens manage to overcome the cacophony to maintain their serenity and bestow it on visitors.

Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden Photo by Michel Hersen
Photo by Michel Hersen

Spreading across hills overlooking the bustling metropolis, the Portland Japanese Garden is designed in different styles through winding pathways. What I am drawn to are the Strolling Pond Garden (chisen kaiyu shiki teien) and Natural Garden (zoki no niwa) that meander between ponds, through a zig-zag walkway of iris, past an impressive waterfall cascading down a cliff, and into the tranquil Lower Pond. On a tour, I heard that it reflects a person’s life—starting quietly, becoming a small, energetic stream, widening to a rushing torrent, then slowing in old age to become a peaceful surface of water.

Other garden areas include a Flat Garden with clipped trees and bushes, the Sand and Stone Garden of raked gravel, reflective Tea Garden with sweeping bridge and building for the ceremony, Entry Garden through a mix of native plants and Japanese maples, and Courtyard Garden.

In addition to enjoying the natural beauty, they host a variety of lectures, demonstrations, and activities surrounding Japanese culture. The gardens have been active since 1963, and currently serve 356,000 visitors per year, cultivated by a staff of 83 employees. I would highly recommend taking the time for a visit if you are in the Portland area.

Website: www.japanesegarden.org
Summer Hours (3/13-9/30):
Monday 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Winter Hours (10/1-3/12): Monday 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Location: 611 SW Kingston Ave, Portland, OR

Missouri Botanical Garden: Japanese Garden

Missouri Botanical Garden Japanese Garden Zen

Completely different from the clustered, delicately designed Portland garden is the Japanese garden St. Louis, Missouri. When I first saw it, I was unimpressed by its sprawling, wide layout, but over time I came to appreciate the airy, open feeling. It is like a breath of fresh air without crowding the plants on top of each other, and quite a walk to go all the way around the lake it surrounds.

Watching it change over the course of seasons is delightful—from cheerful spring colors to a wash of autumnal glory, and twinkling snow during winter. I was intrigued by the domed ice structures caused when water froze in the stone basins, creating chilled sculptural patterns. A heater is turned on when temperatures freeze, to keep the koi comfortable, and there is a station on one side of the lake where you can purchase a handful of fish food that is quite popular with the younger visitors.

Although there is no formal tea room, you can purchase food while inside the garden. Because there are multiple cultural and botanical wonders, explore the Chinese garden that is nearby, along with a variety of other features, including a Victorian mansion, glass enclosed climate controlled jungle, and other beautiful landscapes. October is one of the best times of year to visit the Japanese garden area, due to the vibrant colors.

Website: www.missouribotanicalgarden.org
Hours:
Daily 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Location: 4344 Shaw Blvd, St. Louis, MO

San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden

San Francisco Japanese Garden

Originally created as an exhibit in 1894 for the California Midwinter International Exposition, this treasure of a tiny garden was maintained by Makoto Hagiwara until he was forcibly removed during the internment of Japanese Californians into concentration camps during WWII. Fortunately, anti-Japanese sentiment on the West Coast did not permanently close this monument, and it currently thrives as a destination in Golden Gate Park, surrounded by blossoming cherry trees and throngs of visitors waiting for a glimpse inside.

Although there is an active tea house, it is nearly impossible to get a seat—be prepared to wait, and try arriving at an unusual time for a meal. They serve light dishes such as miso soup, tea sandwiches, kuzumochi (sweet rice cakes in refreshing flavors), and dorayaki (red bean filled savory cake).

This is the Portland Japanese Garden in miniature, with a popular arched drum bridge to clamber over for those unafraid of heights, and red pagodas towering over an array of flowers, graceful trees, and ponds. If you visit, even during the winter, it will be packed with tourists; this is not a garden to meditate in, unless you don’t mind being surrounded by toddlers, giggling selfie groups, and a constant lineup of family photos. There is a discount entry fee if you live in San Francisco. Parking can be difficult—follow signs for the Music Concourse / California Academy of Sciences parking garage if the street is full.

Website: www.japaneseteagardensf.com
Summer Hours (3/1-10/31):
Daily 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Winter Hours (11/1-2/28): Daily 9:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.
Location: 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA

Strolling Through Roy’s Redwoods

By Alexa Chipman Apr. 14, 2017

Stretches of Marin County are surrounded by sentinels of towering redwoods that can be dark enough to require headlights when driving. Roy’s Redwoods Preserve is a compact area of loop trails off one of those roads—Nicasio Valley Road. Next to San Geronimo Golf Course, some trails run right along the golfing green, while others dive deep into woods of fern and moss that feel far from civilization.

The preserve is technically three areas—French Ranch (hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians), Maurice Thorner Memorial (hikers only), and Roy’s Redwoods (hikers or equestrians). The equestrian friendly areas can get rather muddy during the winter, so don’t wear shoes that you are fond of.

Roy's Redwoods Loop Trail

Roy’s Redwoods Loop Trail

Starting from the parking lot, it runs the perimeter in an easy climb through redwood trees, into traditional oak forests, along the golf course in broad sunlit meadows, and back into redwoods. Add onto it by branching off at the bridge toward Thorner Ridge Trail that runs out to Lagunitas School, then walk back to finish the loop.

At times, it is unclear where the trail is, especially at the beginning, so keep an eye out for animal or unofficial trails to make sure you don’t accidentally wander off on one of those instead. The loop is 2.3 miles long, narrow, and not a good choice for picnics; this is a pleasant afternoon stroll to stretch your legs. What I enjoy about it is that the area is largely undiscovered, which allows for a quiet walk, rather than constantly moving aside for other hikers.

French Ranch Open Space Preserve

Fire Roads

If you prefer biking or using a wider path, start from the School Trail, which follows along the road, branch off on the French Ranch Fire Road for a mile, and go left or right along the Barnabe Mountain Fire Road, watching for private property markers, since it is the edge of the park. This has steeper inclines, but is a better option if you don’t enjoy walking along dropoffs on a foot-wide trail.

Why hike at Roy’s Redwoods?

  • Short trails that don’t take long
  • No steep inclines that are difficult to hike
  • Tranquil redwood groves
  • Conveniently off Sir Francis Drake near San Anselmo
  • Free access, although there is limited parking

Website: www.marincountyparks.org
Hours:
Daylight
Location: 275 Nicasio Valley Road, Nicasio

 

Sonoma County’s Secret—Imagery Estate Winery

By Alexa Chipman Apr. 9, 2017

Imagery Estate Winery Tasting Room

If you are tired of seeing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as wine tasting options, and are looking for more original varietals like Tempranillo, Malbec or Viognier right here in Sonoma County, Imagery Estate is the place to be. The atmosphere is casual and fun, with couples laughing over games in the large and beautiful picnic area surrounded by vineyards and an orchard, and lively hosts ready to converse during a wine tasting flight. It is family friendly—there were well behaved children enjoying the sunny lawn areas while I was there, and a festive feel to the grounds.

Members of their wine club have access to a sleek modern patio area and private tasting room, which was crowded with Imagery Estate enthusiasts eager to try the latest offerings. They do not advertise or sell outside of the winery—you can only purchase their wine on site or as part of their wine club shipments.

Imagery Estate Winery

I enjoyed the $15 wine tasting, there is also a seated tasting available at certain times during the day, with reservation.

Moscato 2016
This delightful white wine was impressive enough for me to purchase a bottle, which I was privileged to have signed by the label artist, who was present that weekend—Colin Talcroft, a local monoprint collage artist from Santa Rosa. The aroma is light of fresh cut grass followed by a sharp citrus taste with floral finish that lingers on the palette. It flows well, without the sweet syrupy taste that some Moscatos suffer from.

Aleatico Rosé 2016
Based on the Italian grape, it has a subtle strawberry aroma. The flavor is pleasantly soft and dry, slightly bitter, and quite bland for a rosé. It is a quiet wine, and would be lovely with lighter food or fish courses.

Viognier 2016
From their Russian River vineyard off Occidental Road, it has an intense blood orange aroma, luscious cheddar flavor and after notes of hibiscus for a pleasant finish.

Tempranillo Upper Ridge 2014
This is a wine of the deep redwoods, filled with a woody aroma, satisfying wash of bark and berries in the flavor, and bite of ashes and campfire smoke. It is a rich, powerful red wine that I would recommend on its own.

Imagery Estate is a must visit winery for anyone wine tasting in Sonoma County. They are welcoming, have picnic grounds for lunch and a bottle of wine, and offer some of the most unique wines in this area.

Why visit Imagery Estate Winery?

  • Incredible wines that you will want to buy a case of
  • Unique varietals available
  • Fun atmosphere and picnic area

Website: www.imagerywinery.com
Hours: Monday – Friday 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Saturday – Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Location: 14335 Highway 12, Glen Ellen