The dream of building a Japanese Garden in New Orleans first took root in 1985, when four visionary women — Colleen “Co” Thian, Betty Lyons, Coralie Nesser, and Madeline Jones — founded the Japanese Garden Society. For decades these four special New Orleans women carried the dream forward, planning, working, and fund raising. Without their energy and tireless dedication, Yakumo Nihon Teien would not exist today.
After years of fund raising, an ideal spot was obtained within the Botanical Garden section of City Park. The garden is located just beyond the Train Garden, near the Garden Study Center and the Lathe House. Surrounded by a beautiful bamboo fence, visitors enjoy the garden as an oasis of calm and tranquility. The pictures elsewhere on this website will hopefully give you a sense of what a special place the garden is.
The garden celebrates some important connections between New Orleans and Japan. The formal name of the garden is Yakumo Nihon Teien, an unusual name that bears some explanation. Nihon means Japanese and Teien means garden, so that much is clear. Yakumo refers to a New Orleans writer, Lafcadio Hearn.
Originally born in Greece, Lafcadio Hearn was a renowned author and journalist who lived and wrote in New Orleans for many years in the late 1800s. A substantial collection of his work is housed at Tulane University. He was dispatched by Harper’s Weekly magazine to Japan in 1890, to send back a series of articles. There he fell in love with the culture. He married into a Japanese Samurai family and assumed the name Koizumi Yakumo. Here is a picture of his tombstone in Japan.
He wrote eloquently about Japanese culture, and was influential in introducing it to the west; he is widely read and respected in Japan to this day.
Hearn lived for many years in Matsue, which happens to be New Orleans’ sister city in Japan. It is renowned throughout Japan, and indeed the world, for the fine quality of its stoneware.
Matsue has donated three massive pieces of stone art to the garden: two lanterns and a water basin, which alone are worth a visit.
THE GARDEN TODAY
The garden was designed by local landscape architect Robin Tanner, an acknowledged expert in Japanese-garden design. Ground was broken in 2003 and completed in 2005- just in time for Katrina. While many of the plants were lost in the flood, there was no major damage to the physical elements in the garden. The garden was quickly restored and, in fact, improved by the addition of a small structure that serves as a tea house, and a backdrop to cultural events. It has even served as the site of a wedding.
The garden is one of the most visited and popular sites in the Botanical Garden. We recently expanded the garden more than doubling it in size. The Japanese Garden Society also recently changed its name to the Japanese Garden Foundation, which is more in keeping with our mission of expanding and maintaining this tiny treasure in City Park.