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.
With the south wind a gentle goddess came.
She soaked the bronze, she soaked the fountain,
She soaked the swallow's belly and its feathers of gold.
She hugged the tide, lapped the sand, drank the fish.
Secretly she soaked the temple, the bath-house, the theatre,
The confusion of her platinum lyre --
the tongue of the goddess -- secretly.
Soaked my tongue.
Nishiwaki Junzaburô trans. by Bownas and Thwaite 20th century