Photos by Tracy Walsh
“I loved all the gardens, from the small containers in front of shops to the large gardens near temples,” says Judy Green, recalling the four years she lived near Tokyo, Japan. “Those memories became inspiration for my own.”
Because of those years and the rich experiences they offered, Green’s garden today is a little different than most. After all, gardens grow out of unique cultural interpretations. In the Midwest, gardens are productive, yielding cherry tomatoes, raspberries, and fresh flowers. But in Tokyo and across Japan, a garden is an experience—offering insight into both plant life and the meaning of life. It’s beautiful and fragile, private and relational, terminal and eternal.
Green spent her teen years in Hudson, Wisconsin, in a home overlooking the St. Croix River. It became hers, again, when she and her husband Jim moved in 20 years ago. With garden books and her fond memories, Judy cultivated her visions of a Japanese garden: A walking path. A pond and waterfall. Boulders, bamboo, and symbolic statues. Seeds of her Japanese experience planted in western Wisconsin. Green saw all this, but needed help translating her longtime dreams into the property’s wooded 6-acre landscape.
“We met Kinji Akagawa at a friend’s art gallery,” says Green. “He said we should make it a walking garden. It would be a continuance of surrounding nature and a reflection of the river.”
“A garden in Japan is a process,” says Akagawa. “It’s the seasons—it’s a place you dwell with nature. This is the most important idea behind Central Park in New York City, the most famous garden. To dwell.”
Akagawa is a sculptor and arts educator who served decades as a professor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. “The garden is an experience with which you exist. Not just a spot near your house.”
This concept of dwelling elevates each element of Green’s garden—especially the boulders. Tokyo-born Akagawa told the couple their boulders were too small, so the Greens found larger ones and placed them with care—and large machinery—to flow into the contour of the land. “Kinji guided the placement,” Judy recalls. “We were in different parts of the house, looking out the windows and talking to each other.”
“Trees give us the idea of life and death, and rocks are stable—they don’t change,” says Akagawa. “The silence of rocks is elegant.” He says this encourages meditation and, when they’re well-placed, rocks will “accentuate a garden entrance or a pond, creating experiences.”
A Hotei statue (nicknamed the “Laughing Buddha” in Chinese) sits joyous atop a stone in the center of the pond and adds a visual laugh to the sounds of the waterfall nearby. “I found him at Hedberg’s,” Green mentions, a Stillwater-based landscape center. “I try to find plants and garden sculptures locally. Local plants tend to be hardy enough for our climate. Black’s Market and Nursery [in Lakeland] has been a good resource, too.”
Midwest seasons and wildlife enhance and evolve the space. “Nature changes the garden,” she says, referring to the deer that dine on greens and the subterraneans that enjoy the garden’s offerings from underground. “We have to go with nature.”
And nature spoke loudly when the Greens added koi, or more formally “nishikigoi,” to their garden pond. For the first winter with koi, the Greens aerated the pond to keep it from freezing. (This gave less-friendly garden guests an opportunity, and river otters took six of Green’s koi.) Now, the fish winter indoors, where her husband cares for them in large aquariums and a tub until springtime. “Yes, it’s a lot of maintenance, but it never seems like work,” Green says. “It gives us so much enjoyment, and it’s so peaceful.”
“I begin on the stone path near the house,” she continues. “That moves me from a fast pace to a slow walk near pachysandra and evergreens. We also enjoy the garden while inside the house. A relationship enjoyed from the indoors is part of the design. Plus, it’s spectacular at sunset.”