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Seiwa-en, a serene Japanese strolling garden: Missouri Botanical Garden, part 3

June 25, 2021

A week ago I road-tripped to St. Louis to visit Missouri Botanical Garden. At its far end I found the acclaimed Japanese Garden Seiwa-en, a 14-acre strolling garden built around a curving lake, with naturalistic but carefully composed views. Quite the contrast with the colorful, geometric, and contained Victorian garden I showed in my last post.

As you enter you pass a traditional stone basin and trickling bamboo fountain (top photo), symbolic of a moment for cleansing away the outside world. A crashing waterfall appears as you cross a bridge, and then…

…the garden’s lovely central lake comes into view, with an arched bridge drawing your eye.

The garden was designed by Koichi Kawana, “a native of Japan and lecturer on environmental design and landscape architecture at the University of California, Los Angeles,” according to the garden’s website. “Great care was taken with Seiwa-en to ensure that the Garden would be traditionally authentic, incorporating in its design many concepts that make a garden more than greenery. The visitor to Seiwa-en will see distinct aspects of its beauty when viewing it from different vantage points. It is a world in microcosm, featuring carefully designed waterfalls, beaches and islands, sometimes with minimal plantings, as in the raked dry gravel gardens.”

The arched bridge appears along several viewpoints in the garden. It’s blocked to visitors, however, and I wasn’t sure if that’s always the case or a temporary thing.

Another view from the other side, with a black pebble beach in the foreground

Small, half-obscured paths branch off the main pathway here and there, offering a view of a tucked-away pagoda or fountain amid feathery trees to those who follow them. I always follow them.

A round stone basin and bamboo fountain under a burgundy-leaved Japanese maple

The pond irises were still in bloom during my mid-June visit, brightening a boardwalk bridge that zigzags through them.

So pretty

Burgundy maples across the lake harmonize with purple irises, and the arched bridge appears again in the distance.

A lantern on an arching stone pillar leans out over the lake as if seeking its own reflection.

Another bamboo fountain trickles alongside two upright boulders, like gossiping spirits in the gloom.

Stone, water, foliage, and light shining through maple leaves

Stacked stone basins accept the dripping water.

In a sunny dry garden, white gravel is raked into wave-like ripples around mounding shrubs.

Across the lake from the irises, a view opens up so you can appreciate the scene from afar.

At another bridge, colorful koi swarmed below, waiting for visitors to toss fish food you can buy from a dispensing machine.

Another pretty scene

I followed a side path to the lake’s edge, where I spotted a “paper boat” origami sculpture. A flock of Canada geese spotted me and made a beeline.

Sorry, guys. No food here.

Tucked away teahouse

Stone lantern in a grassy swath

One of many peaceful moments on the walk around the lake

Lattice-style water basin

One last look at the lake with its toy-like origami boats

Up next: A surprisingly inspiring Center for Home Gardening, plus boxwood and Chinese gardens. For a look back at the Victorian Garden and Stumpery at MOBOT, click here.

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