Gresham's Japanese Garden: A showcase for design and the hard work of dedicated volunteers

Lovingly restored and inviting. The entrance to the Gresham Japanese Garden. (KATU)

The Tsuru (sue-due) Island Gresham Japanese Garden at Main City Park has had its ups and downs.

After falling into disrepair, a dedicated group of volunteers recently brought the once-neglected 43-year-old garden back to life and are making sure it is never ignored again.

Tucked onto an island near the park, the garden mimics a natural, ancient and miniature landscape, while offering alluring textures and a place for quiet reflection.

“It draws people to Main City Park and allows people to come and relax and get away from the 90-mph lives that they are living,” said garden director and head gardener, Jim Card. “It allows them some peace and serenity.”

The garden was built by members of the Japanese-American Citizens League in 1975.

"They used to bring in wheelbarrows full of rocks; they brought boulders and brought them in the back of their trucks,” said volunteer Tomiko Takeuchi.

Takeuchi said her parents lived close by the garden in the late 80s.

“My dad used to come down to the Japanese Garden and he told my mother he was coming down to meditate and to be a part of the garden,” she said. “And he'd run across the street to Rexall Drugs, and they'd have ice cream and coffee -- he and all his buddies.”

Over the years, the garden fell into disrepair and became a camping spot for the homeless.

Years ago Jim Card helped Tomiko build a Japanese garden in her yard.

They kept in touch, and in 2011 they visited the Gresham garden together.

“We came and it was horrid,” she said. “It was dirty and it was all overgrown. And there was a beautiful deodar cedar at the entryway and it looked like a shag mop.”

With the help of donations and an army of volunteers, the garden was brought back to life.

The 60-foot bridge was restored.

Winding pathways were uncovered and rebuilt.

The original rock turtle was reassembled.

A new pavilion was erected.

And a fresh crop of maples, azaleas and pines helped complete the renewal.

Tomiko credits Card's enthusiasm for its splendor today.

“He just went like a raging bull,” she said. “And he just got into it and people stepped up and donated things and all of these volunteers got excited, and it's a showcase. I think I'd match it with anything around, including in Japan.”

A plaza named in honor of Gresham’s Japanese sister city Ebtsu is under construction just off the island near the entrance to Main City Park adjacent to the Springwater Trail.

“It is probably 75 percent complete,” Card said. “We still have some benches to put in and some rockery and irrigation.”

And they're selling customized touchstones to fund a special endowment that will keep the Japanese garden maintained for years into the future.

“That will hopefully establish a firm foundation for the financial aspect of the endowment,” Card added.

Gresham’s Japanese garden is meant for strolling, but it's also used for garden workshops, Japanese cultural events and other functions.

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