Volunteers completed three-year effort
After three years of hard work, the Gresham Japanese Garden on Tsuru Island in Main City Park is finally restored and will open next Saturday, June 28, just in time for the third annual Skosh Japanese Cultural Festival the same day.
The old garden, built and donated to the city almost 40 ago by local Japanese farmers, was so overgrown that for more than 20 years hardly anyone went across the little wooden footbridge to get there.
Then one day about three years ago, Tomiko Takeuchi and her landscaper and friend Jim Card happened to be in the park and looked for signs of the old garden.
The garden had disappeared in the undergrowth, and island was a mess, Takeuchi said.
People didn't go out there because it was scary, she said. By 1990 no one was going in there."
It got even worse in later years, she said, with makeshift shacks, trash and even junked cars that littered the island.
Takeuchi said she first saw the Gresham Japanese Garden with her father when she moved to Gresham in 1980 as an adult, and it was a place where he would go to meditate on his way to the Rexall Drug Store for ice cream. But even then the garden had fallen into neglect, she said, and by the mid-1980s it was completely grown over.
But as they stood there looking at what had once been a beautiful place, Card had an idea. He took a pair of clippers out of his back pocket and made three clips on a deodara cedar tree at the site of the old garden, and it gave them both a vision.
I looked at it and went, 'Aha!' The tree looked so lovely after just three snips, Takeuchi recalled. And Jim said, 'I think we should see if we could renovate it.'
That's when the pair started a tremendous undertaking to restore the garden even beyond what it was originally.
The garden was first built and donated to the city of Gresham in 1975 by local Japanese farmers through the Japanese American Citizens League of Gresham-Troutdale, led by Kaz Tamura of Tamura Farms. Takeuchi knew Tamura through her father. He died about 10 years ago and never saw his dream of having the garden restored, so Takeuchi is glad she can carry on his legacy.
Takeuchi got a lot of support and help from the city, the Japan Foundation Los Angeles, lots of area businesses, area high schools, the Department of Corrections and a small core of hardworking volunteers.
Takeuchi credits Card who had recently retired when they stood in the park that day with the design of the garden, training volunteers and securing most of the plants and materials at almost no cost.
Today the garden is a serene island in the middle of the city with meandering paths of variegated stone from Pennsylvania that Card cut by hand, rock-lined simulated stream beds and flowering plants such as azaleas and irises, along with holly, camellias, variegated rhododendron and various evergreens, including sculpted Japanese pines and several varieties of Japanese maples.
All maple trees originated in Japan, Card said as he and Takeuchi strolled through the garden with a handful of volunteers recently.
Benches are placed at locations throughout the garden, each with a different view. Thick rope, which Card had lying around for years, adds accents and guides people along the paths. Bamboo is also used for accent and is placed around the bottom of plants to keep them from beavers, which have built a dam next to the island in Johnson Creek.
The island will now have electricity, with lights in some of the trees. Plans for next year include refurbishing the footbridge and adding a small two-sided pavilion for Japanese tea ceremonies and other events.
But the garden is more than just a beautiful, serene place. Ogoing education will be one of its "offshoots." The city donated and helped refurbish a double-wide trailer next to its barn in the park to be used for classes on gardening and other topics. Students from Centennial and Springwater high schools helped clean up the classroom trailer, and the Reynolds High shop cut clear cedar posts for the garden with its large milling machine, Card said. Akita Farms donated a greenhouse for plant propagation.
The amazing thing about the restoration of the Gresham Japanese Garden is that it has taken shape through the work of just a few volunteers, and the wheeling and dealing and cajoling talents of Takeuchi and Card. The only grant they received was from the Japan Foundation Los Angeles, and local support has been tremendous. Takeuchi said all but one of the downtown businesses she asked for donations to the Skosh Festival and garden agreed to help. And Card has an extraordinary talent for getting something for nothing, she said.
Jim is a great recycler, and almost all the nursery stock we paid very little for, she said. He takes stuff that's damaged and brings it back to life.
Card may love a good bargain, but he said after owning his own landscaping company for 35 years, restoring the garden has brought him back to his roots.
Now I'm back to what I got into this for in the first place, he said.