In Cherry Blossom Time: Sasebo Garden Exalts Ephemerality
by Samantha Anne Carrillo
The English language teems with plant-based idioms. However early or late we bloom, we will all someday be pushing up daisies. Shrinking violets rarely gather moss, or rosebuds while they may. Wallflowers often can’t see the forest for the trees. We all sometimes bark up the wrong tree, beat around the bush, and nip things in the bud. American culture is flush with olive branches, gilded lilies, flowery speech, tall cotton, seed money, and both heirloom and garden-variety oops-a-daisies.
Here in the high desert, that old idiomatic chestnut “stop to smell the roses” simply begs for a substitute Southwestern bloom. Equally sweet-smelling flora native to New Mexico includes Ocotillo, Spanish Broom, Red Yucca, Prickly Pear and Winter Jasmine. Even so, this Albuquerque spring, the flower most emblematic of zen and the art of beholding hails from the East: the Cherry Blossom a/k/a sakura.
Save a trip to Sasebo, our burg’s Japanese Sister City, the best place to commune with the symbolism and splendor of sakura is at the Albuquerque BioPark Botanic Gardens (2601 Central NW). Since its 2007 opening, the Sasebo Japanese Garden has offered Burqueños an oasis for reflection, contemplation, conversation and even meditation. From April through October each year, docent-led tours of the Japanese garden recur weekly, every Wednesday at 10 and then 11 a.m.
The tours happening this Wednesday, April 26, are extra-special, celebrating an old Japanese custom called hanami (花見, “flower viewing”). Dating back a thousand years, this tradition involves spending time with and meditating on vivid pink cherry blossoms as they fleetingly bloom and then wilt, falling―all too quickly―back to Earth. A brilliant but short-lived explosion of ultra pink sakura suffuses the landscape, evoking a potent visual metaphor for the ephemeral nature of existence.
In Japan, the Buddha’s birthday is traditionally celebrated with Hana-matsuri (Japanese: 花祭, “flower festival”) or Kanbutsu-e ( 灌仏会) on April 8. As the Enlightened One’s birth month rolls on, take the time to be with themes of impermanence and attachment; think of it as a spiritual spring cleaning. Within the Sasebo Japanese Garden, immersion in graceful architecture and design makes for a sublime zazen or chillout spot.
Whether or not you cotton to the Four Noble Truths, the Sasebo Japanese Garden, a four-acre miracle of design and tradition, patiently awaits your gaze. Just inside the entrance, on the right, a “garden-within-a-garden” was created six years ago by five architects in four days. Massive wooden gates admit one to features like a bell tower, an enchanting waterfall, and an endlessly watchable koi pond.
The flora in the garden is a combination of Japanese plants and native Southwestern ones that are carefully cultivated and pruned to resemble their Eastern counterparts. Stroll down immaculately manicured paths to explore this hybrid Sasebo-Albuquerque ecosystem, replete with stone lanterns and pagodas. Wooden bridges crisscross babbling streams in landscape architect Toru Tanaka’s imagined, realized landscape.
Lest we neglect the forest-for-the-trees adage, the Sasebo Japanese Garden is just one aspect of the 36-acre Botanic Gardens, within the even larger ABQ BioPark complex. Excepting windy days, springtime is an ideal time to visit the gardens, zoo, aquarium and Tingley Beach. In the gardens, relive your country upbringing or experience farm life for the first time in the Rio Grande Heritage Farm exhibit with farm animals, orchards, crops and barns.
Camino de Colores is a four-section garden that reps the seasons all year long with iconic, associated colors. El Jardin de la Curandera commemorates the indigenous healing tradition of curanderismo with a tasteful bas-relief sculpture and a garden of remedios. Adjacent Festival Green, the Children’s Fantasy and Railroad Gardens respectively offer visitors a 14-foot topiary dragon, a two-story pumpkin and an interactive model train exhibit on two 400-foot loops of track.
Past the Mediterranean and Desert Conservatories, the Dragonfly Sanctuary Garden’s aquatic habitat attracts and breeds dragonflies and damselflies; at the BUGarium’s first-of-its-kind exhibit, the ethereal arthropods zip around, hunt and mate. From flower power to human intervention, there are plenty of reasons why The Travel Channel rated our Botanic Gardens Number 5 in the nation. And about that whole stopping-to-smell-the-roses thing, Jardin Redondo’s 70 award-winning varieties are expecting you.
Admission to the ABQ BioPark, which includes the Zoo, Aquarium, Botanic Gardens and Tingley Beach, ranges from $4 to $9 for New Mexico residents. For more info, call (505) 768-2000 or visit cabq.gov/biopark/garden.
Feature photo credit: ABQ BioPark
Samantha Anne Carrillo is: a Burqueña; a freelance writer & editor; a social media consultant & brand strategist; a fourth-wave feminist; and a devout situationist. Connect with her at facebook.com/samanthaannenm & linkedin.com/in/samanthaannecarrillo.