Shofuso Japanese Garden gets a traditional style makeover

A woman looks at the koi at the newly installed boat landing at the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Fairmount Park. Credit: Facebook
A woman looks at the koi at the newly installed boat landing at the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Fairmount Park. Credit: Facebook

The Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, a 17th century traditional Japanese house and garden snuggled in Fairmount Park, was in serious need of a makeover. The greens were overgrown, the pond was dirty and it didn’t look like how original landscape designer Tansai Sano envisioned five decades ago.

Thursday morning, Shofuso officials will unveil the work they’ve been doing since last year to the gardens in a special rededication ceremony.

“It turned out better than I imagined,” said Kim Andrews, executive director for the Friends of the Japanese House and Garden.

The garden had been installed in 1957 with the traditional Japanese building going up a year later. When Andrews started as executive director four years ago, she knew she wanted to raise money to repair the garden.

“A garden is a living thing,” she said. “You can’t wipe it out and start over.”

Andres said Sano’s original design principles were recaptured when planning the garden’s makeover. An example of that is representing Japan’s geography. The pond is the ocean, the rock islands are Japan’s islands and trees represent the country’s forests.

Andrews next project for the garden is to apply the principle of a borrowed view — something in all traditional Japanese gardens. Their borrowed view will be of the bronze dome of Memorial Hall. Right now, trees block it. They will be removed.

Andrews’ favorite aspect of the garden is the boat landing.

“A common practice for a wealthy estate owner is to launch a boat and ride around reciting haikus, enjoying the moon, signing songs, playing instruments—very typical of a 17th century garden,” she said. “Sano had installed a boat landing but he had planned a path that was never implemented. We raised the landing up and carved a new path, which is so powerful and exciting because it puts you right at the pond.”

Thirty koi feed right at your feet.

Most of the construction was done last fall and finished up this spring. Andrews had helped to raise $75,000 for the repairs, funded by the McLean Contributionship, the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission and the William Penn Foundation.

The rededication ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m., Thursday, Aug. 15.


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