At six acres in size, Yuko-en is one of the largest public Japanese gardens in the United States and the first such in Kentucky. Japanese culture has a special significance to the local Bluegrass community as it is the site of a large Toyot Motor Company manufacturing plant. The garden was built with donations from many local business and individuals including: Toyota; the community of sister-city, Tahara-cho; Aichi Steel; Louisville Forge and Gear Works; and local financial institutions. The entire project cost approximately $1 million.
The garden has been built on the former site of a monastery built in 1898 on land acquired from the family of Gov. James F. Robinson. The new garden was co-designed by Steve Austin, a local landscape architect and lawyer, and Jeff Singer, a local landscape designer and owner of Singer Gardens.
The design process was not a conventional North American one. Austin executed a series of paintings that outlined the vision of what the garden could become and then turned these over to nursery staff and construction workers, who actually did much of the design work as they were constructing the site. This process is uncommon today, but is an important part of traditional Japanese design and has analogues in European architectural history as well.
The originally flat field has been transformed by 600 truckloads of earth into a series of undulating hills that hide, reveal and frame views along the paths that guide visitors through the space. Singer laid the dry creek bed by hand, placing each piece of gravela nd stone based on his experience as a river kayaking afficianado. Other design elements include a bridge crossing the dry stream, a pond, tsukiyama pruned shrubs, stone lanterns and a karesansui dry garden. An unusual addition is a bog garden adjacent to the pond. The bog acts as a bio-filter for the pond.
Planting and construction material are a combination of Japanese and local Kentucky sources. Flowering red bud trees, join Kentucky canebrake and Bluegrass savanna, bur oaks, blue ash and Kentucky coffee trees.
Phase 2 of the garden's design has already begun and will involve the construction of a viewing pavilion at the confluence of the pathways.
The garden is located on Elkhorn Creek as part of the grounds of the Cardome Community Center on the west side of U.S. 25 (North Broadway). The Community Center includes connections to 10 miles of public hiking trails as well as access to the Creek.
A Pair of Stones
Two chunks of gray-green stone,
their shapes grotesque and unsightly,
wholly unfit for practical uses --
ordinary people despise them, leave them untouched.
Formed in the time of primal chaos,
they took their place at the mouth of Lake Taihu,
ten thousand ages resting by the lakeshore,
in one morning coming into my hands!
Pole-bearers have brought them to my prefectural office
where I wash and scrub away mud and stains.
The hollows are black, deeply scarred in mist,
crevices green with the rich hue of moss.
Aged dragons coiled to form their feet,
old swords stuck in for the crown,
I suddenly wonder if they didn't plummet from Heaven,
so different from anything in this human realm!
One will do to prop up my lute,
one to be a reservoir for my wine.
The tip of one shoots up several yards,
the other has a hollow, will hold a gallon of liquid!
My five-stringed instrument leaning on the left one,
my single wine cup set on the right,
I'll dip from the hollowed cask and it will never go dry,
though drunkenness long since has toppled me over.
Every person has something he loves,
and things all yearn for a companion.
More and more I fear that gatherings of the young
no longer will welcome a white-haired gentleman.
I turn my head, ask this pair of stones
if they'd consent to keep an old man company.
And though the stones are powerless to speak,
they agree that we three should be friends.