Most (maybe all) master gardener and garden club garden tours have been cancelled this summer due to COVID-19. Understandable, but still a bummer for those of us who can’t think of a better summer activity than exploring a garden. So, I decided to create my own garden tour in 2020, visiting public gardens within a short drive of my home each week during the usual garden tour season. I started it off over the weekend with a visit to the Normandale Japanese Garden at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.
I’ve thought about visiting this garden, designed by architect Takao Watanabe, many times but only made the trip this past weekend. The garden is free and open to the public, easy to get around and clearly popular. Even early on a Saturday morning, a few other groups strolled the garden as I did.
The Normandale Japanese garden is tucked away between the main campus buildings and a marshy lake. Creating the garden as part of the college was a project begun by Bloomington Affiliated Garden Clubs more than 50 years ago, and the garden was opened in 1976. Like most Japanese gardens, the planting style is restrained. Some flowering shrubs punctuate the seasons, but most of the interest is achieved through foliage texture, reflections on water, stones and variations of the color green.
A Gift and Islands
You enter the garden through a wooden gate, and to your left is a small shelter with information about the garden, its design and its history. To the right, the garden stretches out before you, with its pond, islands and a lovely Bentendo. The Bentendo is a hexagon-shaped building that was given to the garden along with a bridge to it by a group of Japanese-American veterans who worked in the Twin Cities as translators for the United States military during World War II. Their service and the kind treatment they received in the Twin Cities is commemorated with a plaque.
There are many options for walking around the garden. I took the full loop around to begin with, admiring the way the plants reflected off the water in the bright morning sun. A waterfall and stream added a pleasant sound, and the garden is clearly a favorite spot for birds. I spotted a couple of red-wing blackbirds, noisily asserting their territory, but the chirp sounds made it clear there were other birds nearby. A duck stepped onto a rock on the edge of the pond for a quick bath.
The main pond of the garden has three islands: the Bentendo island, Crane Island and Turtle Island. Each is small, ringed with stones and planted with shrubs. A long bridge cuts across the pond and its bright red railings along with other red accents on structures adds color to the garden.
A Place to Think
Normandale Japanese garden also offers several spots to rest your eyes, your body and your mind. The garden features five traditional lantern sculptures, several of which are made of granite. While I enjoyed the garden tremendously in midsummer, I can image the rocks, lanterns and the architecture of the trees would be striking in winter as well.
The shelter and strategically placed benches offer places to sit and contemplate the view. The Zig-Zag Bridge as it is called encourages mindfulness. The garden’s structure also provides many different ways to view the garden, including through a window in the shelter near the gate.
The paths around the garden are easy to walk—the garden is very accessible to wheelchairs or those who need more time to get around. It’s not large either. I was able to walk around twice, stop for photos, and sit a bit in less than an hour. Parking is a short, pleasant walk from the garden entry.
Next time you are looking for a garden to visit for a some contemplation and rest, consider visiting the Normandale Japanese garden.
I’ve visited many public gardens in Minnesota, including the lovely Duluth Rose Garden as well as several wonderful Japanese gardens, but I would love to hear your suggestions of little-known gardens worth a visit. Thank you!