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Make the Japanese Gardens a Destination this summer


Maureen Sexsmith-West ISA Certified Arborist, PR4600A Be sure to visit this tour this world class facility the season!

“Established during Canada’s Centennial in 1967, Nikka Yuko was built to recognize contributions made by citizens of Japanese ancestry to the multi-cultural community of Lethbridge, Alberta, and a s a symbol of international friendship. Its name was created from the Japanese words Ni (from Nihon meaning Japan), ka from Kanada or Canada, and Yuko, which translates as “friendship” to mean “Japan-Canada friendship”. (Source: NYJG History).


Under the direction of Mas Mizuno, the facility is maintained to perfection by the City of Lethbridge Park’s Department in the traditional style. You can rent the space for wedding pictures, private events and group tours. For complete details about history, volunteer opportunities, and their event calendar: Click Here

About Japanese Style Gardens

Japanese gardens combine rock formations complimented with plantings. Plants are used to create spacial definition and to highlight particular features of the landscape (e.g. prune dogwoods directionally to help create the illusion of an arch over a dry river bed). Pruning is done with a sharp, sterilized pair of secateurs to manage plant size and form. Careful detail is given to the view from all angles – you should feel at one and at peace with the space.

There are three laws (1) the design must suit the site, not vice versa; (2) correctly place the stones, then the trees, then shrubs; (3) be acquainted with the rules of shin, gyn and so – to help set the correct mood. One of the key areas required is balance (sumi) and a clear definition between plants and rocks in relation to the space. You don’t use a 10-ton boulder in a 10×10 space. Less is more. It is critical to have ‘emptiness’. This concept is foreign to most North American gardeners – they want to fill every last space or allow plants to become overrun. Annual pruning is a must to maintain ‘ma’.

According to Mas, “stones/rocks (ishi) are the key element” to garden designs. Selection and placement of the stones is critical. Shape, size, colour and texture (wabi and sabi elements) mean that each stone is hand picked and placed in a specific location/position. They are usually configured in three, fives or sevens all with specific meanings. Any rock, plunked anywhere can create “bad stones”. Water is another key element since it represents the passing of time. Bridges (hashi) are used to represent journeys. Ornaments such as lanterns are incorporated as accents only when integral to the overall design.

Once the placement of stones is complete, the plants fall into place naturally to represent the changing seasons. Possible planting combinations suitable to our growing environment and soils include montane pines, low growing junipers, stone fruits, weigla, spirea and elder. After care specialists should be able to assist with plant selection so you can fully understand how each plant will grow, whether they are allelopathic in nature, and the best season to prune each. Avoid hedge trimmers – they do not represent plants in their natural form. This should not be confused with English garden style topiary – I can’t think of any natural pine tree that look like groomed poodles – can you? These would be out of place in a traditional Japanese garden scape.

Remember that in our arid climate, plants growing in gravel beds will be subject to heat stresses, and will require additional watering to compensate for evaporation. Supplemental fertilization may also be needed.

This style of garden is more costly and time consuming to maintain. If the appropriate time and consideration is given to the design phase, and you have a disciplined maintenance program the results are spectacular.

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