Peace Amid the Plants: A Contemplative Stroll Through Morikami Museum and Japanese GardensMay 10, 2022 02:57PM ● By ANN MARIE O’PHELAN
In Delray Beach between the Florida Turnpike and I-95, in an otherwise noisy and congested area, sits a surprisingly serene spot. The 16-acre Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens features meandering pathways, small lakes filled with koi, a tropical bonsai collection, pine forests, and a collection of gardens reflecting major periods of Japanese garden design.
Stepping through the entrance of the Morikami, you soon forget the world you just left behind. Walking through the front doors is like stepping into another world—one that is more quiet and contemplative.
Close to 200,000 visitors come each year to the Morikami. Yet even when the grounds are busy, there are still places to find some peace and quiet: Sit on the benches that overlook the lakes; take a stroll through the impressive bonsai collection or a walk across the James and Hazel Gates Woodruff Memorial Bridge, which marks the entrance to the site’s Roji-en (or Garden of the Drops of Dew) featuring six distinct gardens inspired by historically significant gardens in Japan.
During a recent trip, I found a quiet spot tucked near a waterfall, where I sat for a time and enjoyed its soothing splashing while viewing the Japanese plants and garden rocks. Everything seems so carefully selected and perfectly placed, from the vegetation to the garden sculptures.
“Morikami Museum’s Japanese gardens have become an oasis for visitors to immerse themselves in the natural beauty, peace, and serenity of the gardens,” says Wendy Lo, curator of education. “To many, the Morikami gardens have become a window into Japan right in South Florida’s backyard.” The site engages all five senses whenever possible, giving visitors a full sensory experience.
I enjoyed just that while wandering through the historical gardens. While sitting on a bench, I took in the Karesansui Late Rock Garden, modeled after Japan’s 15th- and 16th-century Muromachi period. This is a dry landscape garden with rocks arranged in a bed of raked gravel, and it’s hard to leave once you sit down on one of the viewing benches, as the simplicity of the space is thought-provoking.
At the Modern Romantic Garden (from the Meiji Period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries), the feeling is more airy and lighter. Garden design during this time period embraced the trend of naturalism and included lawns, paved walkways, fountains, and other elements borrowed from the West.
The Shinden Garden, reflecting the Heian Period during the 9th through 12th centuries, is noted for being the site’s most floral and colorful area. “Shinden gardens were adapted from Chinese garden design of that time, which featured lakes, islands, and bridges. These gardens emphasized the informal beauty of nature and were meant to be viewed from a boat as you leisurely floated along the water,” explains Lo.
Overlooking the gardens is the original museum building, named the Yamato-kan, which was designed to suggest a Japanese villa. The Morikami features a collection of more than 7,000 Japanese art objects and artifacts. The colorful banners and elaborate tea ceremony items are dazzling, and the careful sketches are entrancing. Many of the items in the museum can be viewed online via a searchable database, and I have been back to “visit” them again since my trip.
The main building also includes an extensive library, a 225-seat theater, authentic tea house, and the Cornell Café, which overlooks the gardens and offers a Pan-Asian-inspired menu. The café was once featured by the Food Network as among the best museum dining experiences in the country.
In addition, the Morikami hosts many special exhibits, events, and festivals throughout the year. Beginning May 7 and running through September 25, the museum presents “Beyond the Wall: Visions of the Asian Experience in America,” featuring the work of five contemporary artists of Japanese and Asian American descent who explore their cultural heritage and individual identities through the powerful, large-scale medium of the mural. “For the exhibition, the term mural is creatively interpreted in an unconventional way, going beyond the traditional sense in which they are painted on walls,” explains Lo. In a corresponding artist symposium on May 6, all five participating artists will discuss their work and their experiences having Asian heritage in the U.S.
Another worthwhile stop is the museum store, where you will find many Japanese items such as chopsticks, kimonos, and sake sets. While rife with aesthetic appeal, these items also hold important roles in Japanese society. And that same kind of juxtaposition is on full display throughout the entire Morikami complex—rich in culture, beauty, and quiet spots.
Ann Marie O’Phelan is a Southwest Florida resident and a regular contributor to TOTI Media.
IF YOU GO
Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
4000 Morikami Park Road, Delray Beach
On select days throughout the year, Morikami offers extended garden hours (until 7:30 pm) so visitors can enjoy walking the gardens during cooler parts of the day. Dates include April 21 and July 21.