My wife and I recently visited the Anderson Japanese Gardens with friends visiting from Philadelphia. We all were very impressed with the meticulous care the gardens receive, and the landscaping was done with thought and attention to detail. The admission charge of $8 per adult was very reasonable for the experience once receives.
A very large amount of planting has been done over several decades to create what we believe is a very authentic Japanese garden setting. There are a large number of exotic trees, shrubs and flowers, especially Japanese maples, viburnums, dogwoods, hostas and various conifers. This diversity of smaller plants is balanced against the canopy of large, older bur oak, cottonwoods, and other native hardwoods present before the garden was created. oddly enough, the two groups of species work well together. Given the species mix, the springtime (we only saw the garden in August) would be the best time to view flowers - it must be spectacular when trees and shrubs are in bloom. But even in summer, the placement of the plants, the contours created by stones, water, gravel grass, etc. make for a number of dramatic views. The waterfall offers perhaps the most dramatic view, but Japanese gardens are mostly not about the 'oohs and aahs' of size and power but rather the details and symbols captured in a microcosm of a large ecosystem. In this sense the Anderson Gardens is very well done.
Allow 2-3 hours to walk at a leisurely pace to discover the hidden views and smaller spaces. And do not hesitate to ask one of the docents (guides) questions you may have. We found the several guides on hand that day to be accessible, knowledgeable, and genuinely interested in helping visitors have a good experience.
If there is a drawback to the gardens, it is that only parts are wheelchair accessible. Some paths and stone walks are simply too steep or narrow to accommodate handicap access. I was initially concerned that the close proximity of a major road would add too much background noise, but the vegetation screens and absorbs most sounds, and the running water drowns out street noise. It is also unfortunate that the gardens close at the end of October so late fall, winter and early spring views are not available. This is unfortunate as I think most Japanese gardens offer very different experiences depending on the season. But snow and ice probably make for hazardous walking in may places - too bad.
Overall, the Anderson Gardens are a wonderful addition to the region. More people should discover this 'hidden treasure' right in our midst, but large crowds would start to detract from the overall experience.
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