asian garden

Water is a major theme of an Asian garden.

Probably one of the most popular gardens for Hollywood television and movie sets, the Van Nuys Japanese Gardens in Van Nuys are the epitome of a tranquil Japanese garden. It shares the address of the Tillman Reclamation plant here in Los Angeles, using some of the reclaimed water to irrigate and to fill the extensive lake that forms the central, uniting theme of the garden.

This is an example of a carefully researched, authentically designed Japanese garden created by Dr. Koichi Kawana, a native of Japan and a garden designer who created over a dozen impressive public landscapes in major cities across the United States. The garden is a piece of art that exemplifies the use of ideal, environmentally synchronized plants with Japanese symbolism to create a garden that is harmonious to the eye, the ecology and the spirit. It is an interesting marriage between the contemporary architecture of the Tilllman Water Plant and the traditional peace of a formal Japanese garden.

Meander along the pathways for a therapeutic visit to soothe stress or simply stop in the garden to enjoy a mini-retreat to pass the afternoon. If you want ideas for your own Japanese garden, this is a perfect place to spark your imagination. Areas work as a whole fabricated with internal pictures within the overall design so you can frame your own view.


Wander along the paths to compare the contrast of colors and textures. Stop and listen to the bamboo fountain or gaze at the water lilies in summertime bloom.


Water lily pads

Water lilies float serenely on the water surface.






Golden bamboo

A stand of Golden bamboo flourishes as it stands guard over a pathway.



azalea garden

Red azaleas light up this view of the Van Nuys Japanese Garden











Early spring paints the garden brilliant red with azalea blooms.  Expect to see the area alive with fish, ducks and birds – the latter flying in for a little vacation from their life in the wild.


The Van Nuys water garden is a haven for wildlife like these water birds.








Not only will you learn about the symbolism demonstrated in the garden (stop into the gift shop and make sure you pick up the brochure on the garden which will help explain the details), but you will see some of the fine effects that can be designed into an Asian garden by grouping and contrasting different building materials like stone, pebbles, wood and bamboo. Plants form their own visual communities and artistically interact with the non-living materials.

Non-living garden

A garden of textures is created with non-living materials.











The tea house gives you views along the water as well as the shade garden on the side.

Japanese tea house

The tea house looks out on decorative garden views.


Behind the tea house you can follow a wooden-railed, curving ramp out into the sunshine where you can gaze at the different ways various styled bridges and waterfalls are integrated into specific views and the overall picture. The sound of  water spilling over natural tumbles of rock adds to a sense of peace and harmony. There are different sizes, shapes and styles of water features to offer design ideas for your own garden.

Tumbling water

No Japanese garden is complete without a dramatic waterfall.

The Van Nuys garden illustrates the Japanese art form of controlling nature in the landscape.  Each area is carefully planned out with one event carefully leading to the next.


Even the trees are trained to grow in the exact, desired shape. There is no room for accidents.


Trees are carefully trained into shape with wires.

That means that if you come to enjoy the garden, expect a few restrictions to protect the gardens from damage. Visitors are encouraged to stay on the pathways, items like photographic tripods are discouraged and anything that might disturb the controlled conditions of the gardens is not recommended.

Different areas offer creative Japanese garden concepts. There are multiple solutions for water gardens, rocky areas, shade gardens, floating islands and artistic beachfront hardscapes (permanent features). Plants work together in micro-environments but also flow into the bigger picture so you can focus on the way a weeping cherry is reflected in the water, or gaze at how it creates a focal point for the walkway and water that surround it. Typical of Asian gardens, the Van Nuys Japanese Garden is rife with symbolism, whether it is reflected in the weeping cherry tree (symbolizing clouds and transience), stone lanterns (representing the light that outshines ignorance) or a bamboo fountain (representing internal cleansing in the modern Japanese garden).

Old cherry tree

The weeping cherry is one of the early bloomers in the garden.



Whether you want to spend a peaceful afternoon in the living art of a tranquil Japanese garden or you want to take home ideas for plants, design and decor for your own landscape, the Van Nuys Japanese Garden will not disappoint you.

Call to make sure the garden will be open when you want to visit. There is ample parking just off of 6100 Woodley Avenue in Van Nuys, California. You’ll find information posted on the Van Nuys Japanese Garden site at Docent-led tours can be set up by appointment. Call at 818 756-8166. Admission is only $3.00 per person and $2.00 for seniors and children.

Lantern and fountain

Garden decor is heavy in symbolism.