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Beauty Within Reach

3-20 travelogue openerBy Jim McCloskey

I’ve spent enough time exploring Los Angeles that I’ve found a few underappreciated gems in my time – at least so far as watershaping is concerned.  One of them is Suiho En, the “Garden of Water and Fragrance” – otherwise known as “the Japanese Garden next to the water-treatment plant.”

It’s an unusual location for such a contemplative space – six-and-a-half acres of “stroll garden” set 3-20 travelogue 1literally in the shadow of the treatment plant’s modern-style office complex and occasionally down-wind of the bruised air that wafts away from the plant’s less-than-gently-fragrant settling pools.  But I long ago forgave the space these shortcomings and have enjoyed timing my visits to see different plants in flower and the various birds passing through on their seasonal ways north or south.

The gardens existed on paper well before construction began in 1980.  In fact, Donald Tillman, the city engineer after whom the treatment plant was eventually 3-20 travelogue 2named, had the gardens in mind even before the adjacent facility started taking shape in 1975.  Thanks to his persistence, funding for the gardens finally came in 1979 and construction began the next year; the project was mostly completed by 1983.

Its design was the work of Dr. Koichi Kawana, the late UCLA professor who designed numerous Japanese-style gardens across the United States.  3-20 travelogue 3He followed Japanese traditions, but he made the wise decision with each of his projects to use local plants to achieve visual effects that fell in line with classic models.  

As mentioned above, this is a stroll garden and features an extensive network of rising and falling pathways offering a wide variety of viewpoints close to and away from the water.  It’s a glorious place for a leisurely walk; on a day last month, my wife and I spotted a blue heron not more than 20 feet from us as well as a variety of ducks and other water birds we haven’t seen anywhere else locally.  When I took these pictures a few weeks later, I saw a snowy egret – but it flew away before I could raise my camera.

The gardens are well worth a visit, and within easy reach of key freeways as well!

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