Photo | Asian Lotus. Courtesy of Don Fry
By Don Fry, Mobile County Master Gardener | MobileCountyMasterGardeners.org
I thought you’d like to know about this hidden gem said to be “the most peaceful place in Mobile.” We’ve been busy getting ready for your visit. We’re celebrating 81 years of volunteer management of the plants at the Mobile Japanese Garden on behalf of the citizens and visitors of Mobile.
It started as a spring-fed swampy area. Mr. Herbert Kimbrough, a fisherman, is credited with getting the city and state to set up a fish hatchery here in 1939 during the Great Depression food shortage to help stock area fishing holes. Our studies center building was built then by volunteers with materials donated by Fred Stimpson. The azalea and camellia blossom gardens were designed by Kosaku Sawada. After 20 years of hurricanes, the hatchery was relocated to Perry County, but the beauty of the area remained.
The volunteer gardeners continued under the leadership of Barbara Britton, organizing major repairs and even more plantings. She and Keep Mobile Beautiful received state honors for this garden project in the ’80s. Charles Wood studied Japanese Sumi-e art painting as a retiree in the ’90s and developed a vision of a free, public, natural, (not formal) walkable Japanese garden in this corner of Mobile. Architect Takeo Uesugi added his artistic touch in making it an authentic Japanese garden, with honors from the Japanese ambassador. Now, our Mobile Japanese Garden encompasses the Charles Wood Japanese Garden and continues to evolve and develop with help from public and private sources.
Keep Mobile Beautiful, Mobile County Master Gardeners and volunteers from all corners of the Mobile area have come together over the last two years to help. We are revitalizing the Mobile Japanese Garden and the western trailhead of the Three Mile Creek Greenway Trail which goes through the garden. The cherry blossom trees had been planted about 20 years ago, so the garden needs continual rejuvenation. Twenty new trees have been planted in the last year, with plans to add 80 more in a cherry blossom forest! We will have 100 trees with four varieties spanning eight weeks of spring blossoms. You can visit MobileJapaneseGarden.com to donate toward a new tree in memory of or in honor of a loved one.
We are also an educational garden for the students and citizens of the Mobile area. There’s an Asian vegetable garden planted and maintained by students. We also have two large koi ponds, a turtle pond and even a beaver pond. In the summer, Asian lotus flowers beautifully fill two of our large ponds. Come tour and enjoy 24 acres of ponds, azalea and camellia gardens, our Cherry Blossom Forest, grass and wooded trails (including an authentic Japanese dragon boardwalk trail) and even some rapids of Three Mile Creek which run through the middle of the garden.
We invite volunteers to join us for a bit of outdoor gardening fun and education. They’re sometimes here to fulfill community service hours but soon say, “I was not very excited about this, but I’m learning. This is kind of fun. I’m actually enjoying this!” Diverse people from all walks of life from all over Mobile find a happy place at the Mobile Japanese Garden.
For a full video tour of the garden, check out Don Fry’s interview at aces.edu/go/japanese.
Editor’s Note: Don Fry is a retired MCPSS teacher and Air Force major who is still teaching. He says he can’t stop after 35 years. He is both curator and volunteer manager of the Mobile Japanese Garden, including the Charles Wood Japanese Garden.
Garden Events for Your Calendar
What: Enjoy the Mobile Japanese Garden
Where: 700 Forest Hill Drive, Mobile (accessible through trail #1)
When: Daylight hours, daily
Cost: Free, but donations appreciated
More info: mobilejapanesegarden.com
What: Market in the Park
Where: Cathedral Square, 300 Conti Street; look for the MG tent!
When: Saturdays through July 17, 7:30 am to noon
More info: SpecialEventsMobile.org
What: Visit Mobile Botanical Gardens
Where: 5151 Museum Drive, Mobile
When: Wednesday through Sunday (check website for hours and fees)
Lunch: Reserve a lunch Wednesdays and Fridays
More info: MobileBotanicalGardens.org
What: Alabama Virtual Garden Chat
Where: Join this Zoom space to learn about seasonal garden problems: auburn.zoom.us/j/82398811386
When: Wednesdays, 2-3 p.m. (April through August)
Questions: Email AlabmaGardenChat@gmail.com
What: Visit Bellingrath Gardens and Home
Where: 12401 Bellingrath Road, Theodore
Check out: Wonderful Wednesdays through July 28
Hours and fees: Go to Bellingrath.org or call 251-973-2217
Master Gardener Helpline: 877-252-4769
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