Bell tower in the entrance area of the Japanese Garden at the Albuquerque Bio Park in New Mexico.

 When Catherine Hubbard came to Stone Forest to purchase a traditional Japanese Oribe lantern this past summer, we chatted about how inspiring just one sculptural element can be in an outdoor space. Then, in December, she reached out and invited me and Michael Cahill to visit the  Sasebo Japanese Garden at the Albuquerque Bio Park, where she happens to be the Botanic Garden Manager. MC and his family are already members there, and enjoy the year-round activities that the gardens, zoo, and aquarium have to offer. We chatted on the drive down about the upcoming night-time show that they have each year for the holidays, called “River of Lights.”

Catherine explained her invitation:

“Toru Tanaka is the designer of the Japanese Garden in the park, completed in 2007, and continues to make frequent visits here to keep us true to his vision, and assist us with pruning.  In mid-December, Toru will be here with two of the members of his crew from his company in Portland, Japanese Garden Specialty.  They are always fascinating to watch as they prune our Japanese Black Pines and other plants as needed.

Toru is an amazing person, and we feel so fortunate to have him as our designer and consultant: he is a true creative artist, as well as a talented and skilled horticulturist, and a nice person.  Here is a 2007 biography of Mr. Tanaka, who has been the Director of the Portland JG, has worked on the Anderson JG, and currently consults regularly with the Japanese Ambassador in D.C. on his garden (which is also in the Ogata style).

If you, and/or any of your staff, would like to come to our BG while Toru is here, we would love to host you and introduce you to him.  We are just so proud of his work, and love to share him with others in NM who can also appreciate his skills and Japanese philosophy.”

The wood entry gate to the rest of the garden, with carefully placed long, rectangular stone pavers along the pathway.

Needless to say, it was an honor to walk and discuss the four-acre garden with Toru–a humble, generous person and a gentle soul. As we entered through large wooden gates, the pathway opens up to a large waterfall, central koi pond, and mixture of plant-life. Catherine pointed out that Toru didn’t want to tear down the existing native flora, but blend it with his traditional vision, creating a truly unique Japanese garden that also embraces Albuquerque’s natural beauty. One of the most dramatic elements that remains is the large cottonwood trees that stand as a towering backdrop to lanterns, pruned pines, curved bridges, and other hand-selected elements.

The reflective koi pond encourages meditation and inner-quiet.

As we walked the garden paths, we observed many large boulders bordering the garden paths and the pond edges, and Toru explained that he was very specific about the placement of these heavy stones, which speak directly to the wabi-sabi aesthetic, embracing the asymmetry and imperfections found in the natural world. Although the arrangement was very deliberate, the subtle hand of the designer attempts to mimic nature, and make it look as if the boulders have been there for centuries; this is a sign of success, explained Toru.

Observing the Ogata Kai Garden.

Left to right: Maria Thomas (asst. curator for the Japanese Garden), Michael Cahill (general manager + co-owner at Stone Forest), Toru Tanaka (Landscape Architect), and Catherine Hubbard (ABQ Botanic Garden manager). 

We stopped quietly at the landscape’s newest addition: “a ‘garden-within-a-garden’ designed by five members of the Ogata Kai organization of Japanese landscape architects. The five architects, trained under the late Kenzo Ogata, created this beautiful garden in just four days (September 14-17, 2009),” explained Catherine.

A Yukimi Lantern stands in a quiet stream.

Catherine, MC, and Toru enter the bamboo forest.

After following the pathways around the koi pond’s curve, meandering along the streams, and stopping to listen to the waterfall, the loop finishes with a small, lush bamboo forest tunnel. After thanking Toru for this time, I asked him if he felt proud of his accomplishment. He smiled, shyly, and said, “Oh, yes yes, sure. But it is always changing–never finished.” He then returned to his crew member’s side, who stood atop a ladder asking for confirmation on the spot where he was pruning a pine tree. They will take years to coax and shape into what Toru is envisioning.

A pagoda-style sculpture sits on a hilltop.


I would encourage locals and visitors alike to visit this beautiful garden. And a big thanks to Catherine for sharing this little sanctuary in the city.


For more information, visit:

Here are some more tagged snapshots on flickr from various visitors.


All photos above taken by Cameron Johnson.


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