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Colorful scene

Rhododendron offers splashes of pink at Anderson Japanese Gardens in springtime, while Japanese maples provide burgundies and reds throughout the season.

Record heat can fuel fantasies of fleeing to the north.

If you are feeling pulled in that direction, let me suggest one of the largest and finest Japanese gardens in North America, located right here in Illinois. It's Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, one of the most beautiful and restorative places my husband Andy and I have discovered.

Although situated near the heart of town along Spring Creek and Illinois 251, the gardens still possess the power to take you thousands of miles away. They do this with an intricate series of cozy spaces alternating with larger vistas as you make your away along winding paths through a good portion of the 12.5 acres that were once the back yard of Rockford businessman John Anderson and his wife, Linda.

In the late 1970s Hoichi Kurisu created this oasis for the Andersons, inspired by the Portland Japanese Garden in Oregon, and the couple donated it to the Rockford Rotary Charitable Association in 1998.

Today, Anderson Japanese Gardens exist as a not-for-profit entity open to the public May through October.

“You can typically view an entire English-style garden from a single vantage point,” says David Anderson, son of the founders. “A Japanese garden, by contrast, is designed intentionally with things encroaching on the path, forcing you to slow down.”

I compare the experience to entertaining antique stores, with another room of treasures to explore around every corner, but these are riches for the soul – warm sunshine, ripples of water over rock, glimpses of small wildlife and layers upon layers of gorgeous greenery. On our last visit we spent some quality time observing a pair of Canada geese beside the water, watching over their three still-downy goslings.

The essentials used in a Japanese garden are stone, which form the foundation of the landscape, water to represent life-giving force and plants to change with the seasons. “The focus is on Earth elements,” explains Katie Weston, program and events manager.

Secondary elements include arbors, bridges and pagodas. “It's a place of respite, but it's also an energizing place that stimulates creativity,” Anderson says.

It's not too late to enjoy Tuesday Evening in the Gardens, featuring a series of musicians playing at 5:45 p.m. in a picnic setting with food and beverage vendors, through Aug. 28. The annual Japanese Summer Festival is also next Saturday, July 28, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with exhibits, demonstrations and family friendly performances designed to foster understanding of the Japanese culture.

Go to https://andersongardens.org for more information.

If you're considering a visit in the spring when the colors in Anderson Japanese Gardens are at their peak, I might emphasize that their season begins no earlier than late April unless a mild spring makes an earlier opening possible. “It's a big job getting this place show ready,” Anderson says.

One year we arrived one week too early, and because we knew the extraordinary beauty we were missing, it was a lesson we won't soon forget.

Theresa Churchill is a retired senior writer for the Herald & Review. Suggest people, topics and places for her by emailing theresandy85@gmail.com.

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