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Image of a bonsai garden.
For the ultimate in peace and tranquility, visit the Shinzen Friendship Garden.

How Art Shapes Our Lives: The Shinzen Friendship Garden

By Sal Maccarone

Parks are wonderful places! They provide recreation, they are aesthetically pleasing, and they are helpful to our environment in many ways. There are many types of parks, from urban to national, but they all share the same basic goal: setting aside space which will contribute to our physical and psychological well-being.

Many urban parks are green spaces, incorporating the use of water (natural or otherwise.) This, of course, is because water is pleasing, but also to encourage natural wildlife. San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and New York’s Central Park are excellent examples of well-thought-out parks.

Fortunately for those of us living up here in the mountains and foothills, we live within close proximity to another well-thought-out park. During 1968, a gentleman by the name of Ralph Woodward donated to the city of Fresno a tract of land near the San Joaquin River. Ralph only had one stipulation: the property was to be used as a park.

The resulting Woodward Park in North Fresno holds some unique, and unexpected, surprises. With two entrances, one off of Friant road, and the other off of Audubon, there are two distinct ends to this great park. Complete with hardwood shade trees, trails, ponds and three large interconnected lakes, Woodward Park is a great place to visit at any time of the year.

Within Woodward Park — closer to the Friant road entrance — there lies a hidden gem. The Shinzen Friendship Garden is one of the most beautifully laid-out and well-maintained five-acre spaces in the country. Peaceful, serene, calm, placid, and tranquil would be some good words to describe this stunning little park within a park.

Designed by Kodo Matsubara and Paul Saito, this authentic Japanese garden opened in 1981. The initial purpose of the garden was to honor Fresno’s sister city, Kochi, Japan. Some of the many features unique to the Friendship Garden include a tea house actually built in Japan, elegant pathways, a koi pond to beat all koi ponds, and a multitude of exotic trees, shrubbery, and seasonal plantings.

Now to dig a little deeper into the Shinzen Friendship Garden’s maze of beautiful features! The bonsai collection from the former Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture, with over one hundred authentic specimens, was added to the Shinzen Friendship Garden in 2015.

A testament to the art of bonsai, this section of the garden offers a world-class walk-through display, which is changed each season. The art of bonsai in general involves the meticulous long-term shaping, and training of a young tree or shrub. The desired result of this tedious artform is to grow perfectly shaped miniatures in shallow pots. Part of the process requires that the plant be removed from the pot occasionally so that the roots can be trimmed, thereby always keeping the plant small. This is a fascinating art that requires a lot of patience.

Some of the magnificent bonsai trees in the Clark Collection are ancient, and have been cared for by many generations of artists. One tree in particular is thought to be more than 1000 years old! When the Friendship Garden is open, the keepers of the bonsai are proud to offer information as well as classes in order to help preserve this wonderful artform.

The bonsai collection at  the Friendship Garden is a living museum indeed!

Here is a link to a great video about the art of bonsai:



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