Licking County News

Major renovations under way for Dawes' Japanese garden

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Keith Stevens, Dawes Arboretum's Japanese garden curator, is anxious for consistent warm weather this spring.

"Weather's been the biggest challenge," Stevens said. "I'm really looking forward to the garden being completed."

The harsh winter hindered a complete renovation of the Japanese garden, which was first constructed in 1965.

Original blueprints are being used to re-create the authentic elements that Makoto Nakamura, a lecturer in landscape architecture at Japan's Kyoto University, designed in 1963.

"This garden was designed to showcase what a Japanese garden should look like," Stevens said. "It is a reflection of nature and its peacefulness. It provides the public with a relaxing setting to get away from busy everyday life."

Nakamura's design featured a meditation house overlooking the reflection ponds of the garden, but after almost 50 years, the structure was in disrepair and had to be taken down.

A reconstruction of the meditation house is being done using Nakamura's design along with custom Japanese timber framing.

"We're keeping the true nature of the meditation house," said Brent Pickering, director of landscape operations.

He said the new meditation house will be built with cypress wood and be completely authentic, meaning no screws holding it together -- the design keeps it intact.

Among the other tasks to be completed are resetting stepping stones across the pond and a variety of landscape enhancements to help prevent siltation into the mirror pond. Much of the major stone work involves boulders weighing from 500 pounds to 3,000 pounds.

Pickering said the new section near the pond would resemble a meandering woodlands stream.

Dawes executive director Luke Messinger said the arboretum hosts roughly 250,000 visitors per year, which has taken its toll on the garden. Messinger said this was the best time to renovate it.

"People are really drawn to cultural landscapes," he said.

Work on the garden will stop during late spring and early summer. It is scheduled to resume in midsummer for stone-work improvements on the islands and along the pond shore.

Messinger said the goal is to complete the work by May 2015.

Messinger said the Japanese garden holds romantic memories for its visitors, many of whom were married there or proposed to their partners.

"It seems to be a destination for people early in the dating process," Messinger said. "We're proud of that fact."

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