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Early History & Designers

Early History & Designers

Shinzen emerged in an era of sister-city gardens, where Japanese gardens were built to forge friendship after the Second World War. The fascination with Japanese gardens spread. And just as public Japanese gardens expressed a city’s level of international tolerance and taste, the backyard koi pond expressed a similar sentiment. The  stage was set for the birth of Shinzen, Fresno’s very own public Japanese garden.

The development of Shinzen began in 1967 at the suggestion of Fresno City Councilman J.D. Stephens. Shinzen was only made possible after agricultural business owner and co-owner of the Woodward company, Ralph W. Woodward allocated for the development of Woodward Park.

The Garden was developed under the City of Fresno. In 1972, Paul Saito was selected to design the Garden. Paul Saito approached Shiro Nakagawa who designed the main garden concept of the four seasons.

The planting patterns of Japanese Gardens in North America are an interesting lesson in adaptation. Where able, landscape architects substitute Japonica varieties that mimic the look and feel of plants used in Japan. The plant selection is contingent on the local climate. In the case of Shinzen, the plant selection was determined by what was available.

Another area of interest from this initial plan is the placement of rocks within the Garden. Rock placement is an important art form in Japan, and specialists devote themselves to this design element. It is interesting to note that the city conducted this action in the Garden as well, likely with no prior knowledge of the cultural form.

So the Garden’s bones are in the Japanese style. However, it is very much its own unique authentic creation, the result of a pragmatic and resourceful parks and recreation department. Thus, the fourth designer is the city workers of Fresno. One notable figure in this history is Rudy Castillo, director for many years, and former Shinzen board member.

Saito has been active on the board of directors since that time, serving a term as president and overseeing the Ume grove and tea gardens designs. Mr. Nakagawa contributed important research guidance for this tour in 2014 and 2015.

Shinzen is an aesthetically pleasing space where people can stroll through and learn about Japanese traditions. Shinzen also serves as a program space, its size and beautiful landscapes make it a popular venue. In order to fund the maintenance of the Garden, Shinzen is available for a variety of events throughout the year, from weddings to festivals to educational and volunteer programs.

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 16178, Fresno, CA 93755-6178

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