What: Anderson Japanese Gardens
Where: 318 Spring Creek Road, Rockford, IL (815) 229-9390
May 1 – October 31 (earlier or later as weather permits)
Indoor events year round
Monday through Friday, 9am – 6pm
Saturday 9am – 4pm
Sunday10am – 4pm
Seniors (62+) $7
Children under 5 Free
Regular Admission for Garden Members is Always Free
Speaking of hidden gems, in the nation’s “third most miserable city” you’ll find the number one ranked Japanese garden in the U.S., according to Sukiya Living Magazine: The Journal of Japanese Gardening. I’m talking about Anderson Japanese Gardens.
The Gardens are the brainchild of its namesake, businessman John R. Anderson (as far as I can tell, no relation to John B. Anderson who ran for President of the United States as an Independent in 1980, although he is also from Rockford).
John R. Anderson is CEO of Anderson Enterprises, and a Rockford booster, serving as one of the local leaders behind the Rock River Regional Transformation initiative, whose goal is to make Rockford and the surrounding region one of the top 25 most desirable places to live and work in the U.S. by the year 2025.
Anderson had become enchanted with Japan through many visits and attempted to build a Japanese garden in his backyard. In 1978 he visited a Japanese garden in Portland, Oregon, and tracked down one of the garden’s designers, Hoichi Kurisu, and arranged for him to build a similar garden in Rockford. As their brochure states, “From groundbreaking to today, the placement of every rock, alignment of every tree, and layout of all paths has followed the careful planning and vision of Mr. Kurisu.” In 1998, John and his wife Linda Anderson donated the Gardens to the Rockford Rotary Charitable Association, and it now exists as a not-for-profit entity.
Charles and I were lucky enough to catch the last day the Gardens were open for the season. We soaked up the beauty of fall, undercut as it is with the bittersweet bite of winter to come (or in more prosaic terms, that pit of your stomach feeling that tells you stepping outside will soon have you cursing a blue streak, so get in your nature loving while you can).
The Gardens are a sprawling 14 acres full of panoramic scenes and lovingly rendered little details. The main areas to wander are the two large ponds. To the East is the Pond Strolling Garden, which is based on formal 13th Century Japanese garden design. To the West is the Garden of Reflection, whch features many traditional Japanese garden elements intermixed with more modern touches, such as Carl Milles’ Angels sculptures.
There were beautiful curved bridges connecting the East and West ends of the Gardens, and plenty of koi in the ponds, the biggest I’d ever seen. There were lots of benches for quiet contemplation. There were guest houses and tea houses (unfortunately, not open to the public), a visitor center and an event pavilion which hosts many special events, and can be rented out for weddings and private events.
I had no idea such a lovely place was such a short drive away and can’t wait to go back in the spring. Although the Gardens proper are now closed for the season (you’ll have to wait ’til May 1, 2015 to check it our yourself), the Gardens hosts a lot of year round indoor events. There are ongoing Tai Chi and Bujinkan (a form of martial arts) classes, and on December 10 and 12 (if you have $50), get into the season with a traditional candlelight Christmas dinner including carols sung by Kantorei, The Singing Boys of Rockford.