While it’s easy to be distracted by the grandeur and beauty of the Sunken Garden at the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory in St. Paul, there’s another green space nearby worth your attention. The Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden opened to the public in 1979 and was last renovated in 2013. Its chisen-kaiyu (strolling pond) design was a gift to St. Paul from its sister city of Nagasaki. Established in 1955, theirs was the first Sister City relationship between a U.S. and Asian city.
Landscape architect Masami Matsuda followed strict design principles of Japanese gardening when planning Ordway’s serene and artful layout, but he also made sure to incorporate hardy pines and shrubs that could handle Minnesota’s no-joke winters. More than 400 tons of rocks, many of them sourced at a quarry in Apple Valley, strategically punctuate the gardenscape. There are stone lanterns, too, just as you might find in a Buddhist temple. Three of these tōrō were once exhibited at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
A traditional sukiya-style tea house fashioned from native cedar was added to the garden in 1991. Each spring, Como Park teams up with the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Minnesota Association to host chanoyu here. The traditional Japanese tea ceremonies have already sold out for the 2019 season, but check back in March of 2020 to get on next year’s list.
Ordway is open from April through November, weather permitting. It’s one of our favorite places in the Twin Cities to steal a moment of quiet reflection, but we’re also looking forward to Como Park’s annual Japanese Obon Festival, slated for Sunday, August 18 this year. The daylong event is co-hosted by the Japan America Society of Minnesota and Saint Paul Nagasaki Sister City Committee. On the docket: taiko drumming, bamboo fluting, martial arts, origami, anime, calligraphy, teppanyaki, bonsai, ikebana, and a beautiful display of floating paper lanterns.
Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden
The Ordway Gardens, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, 2013 Aida Pl., St. Paul, MN; 651-487-8201.