I enjoy and appreciate all garden styles, but Japanese garden style is my favorite. The uncrowded bed design, well placed ornaments and natural building materials lend a sense of balance and allow visitors to focus. This balance is intended to overflow into day-to-day life.

Japanese gardens have existed since the sixth century, when hill-and-pond gardens were introduced from China and Korea. Japanese monks further developed gardens into an art form. The gardens are usually simple, neat and uncluttered. Visitors are encouraged to connect more deeply with the land.

Primary elements of Japanese garden style include islands, stones, water, paths and plants. Bridges, lanterns, water bowls, benches, gates and fences are both functional and ornamental additions to the garden. Natural materials are always used to connect visitors to the land.

Pine trees are often trained to look like old, windswept trees. Shrubs are sheared into rounded shapes to suggest small hills or clouds. Flowers and colors are generally used sparingly in Japanese gardens.

We are lucky to have several excellent Japanese gardens in Minnesota. The Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese garden located at the Como Park conservatory in St. Paul opened in 1979. The renowned designer, Masami Matsuda, created a sansui-style garden, or mountain and water landscape, with Minnesota hardy plants.

The Garden of Quiet Listening is located at Carleton College in Northfield. This small but impressive kare-sansui, or dry landscape garden, uses Lake Superior beach stones and white gravel to create a mountain stream and lake. The garden includes two stone lanterns, a water basin, stone pathway, redwood benches and a tea-house style pavilion for viewing the dry lake.

Nestled into a corner of the Minnesota Landscape arboretum, Seisui Tei or Garden of Pure Water reflects a garden style from the Edo Period. The garden includes traditional elements such as granite stone lanterns, a garden house, water basin and entry gates. The garden contains 20 different tree species and 24 shrub species. The nine-foot tall waterfall is the focal point of the garden.

The Japanese garden at Normandale Community College is a strolling garden style. The garden is full of Japanese garden elements including a gated entrance, multiple bridges, stone lanterns, shelters, symbolic islands, rocks, streams and waterfalls. The garden includes a zig-zag bridge, a flat bridge and a taiko-bashi, drum-shaped bridge. The three stone lanterns in the garden are hand-carved. The pagoda lantern is 10 feet tall.

Enger Tower Park in Duluth includes a Japanese garden. The garden includes a pavilion and a peace bell from Duluth's sister city in Japan. The viewing pavilion overlooks the city of Duluth and Lake Superior.

The top 10 Japanese gardens in the world include three gardens in the United States. The Portland Japanese Garden in Portland Oregon is No. 5, the Shofuso garden in Philadelphia is No. 7 and the Anderson garden in Rockford, Ill., is No. 8. The other seven that make up the top 10 are in Japan.

I have visited numerous Japanese gardens and enjoyed every garden, but the Portland Japanese garden is my favorite. A Japanese garden is a work of art and the perfect place to clear the mind and enjoy the tranquility.

Robin Fruth-Dugstad is a horticulture professor at Rochester Community and Technical College with 25 years of experience gardening and landscaping. Send plant and garden questions to life@postbulletin.com.

What's your reaction?