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Helmut Schmidt, Published September 21 2013

Group hopes idea for Japanese garden takes root

FARGO – Somewhere in the Fargo-Moorhead area, there has to be a few acres perfect to create a little glimpse of Japan.

At least, that’s what Jackie Williams thinks.

Williams, executive director of the Northern Plains Botanic Garden Society, said the group is working with a couple of developers, hoping to convince one to donate 25 acres for a large-scale botanic garden.

“These are legacy gardens that will improve the quality of life,” Williams said.

The first of the projects envisioned for the land would be a 2-acre Japanese garden, dubbed the Garden of Mind and Soul.

Williams said the $4.2 million project is planned to be built in four phases:

Phase I involves drilling wells for water, putting in underground infrastructure and prepping the soil.

Phase II includes building learning facilities, parking, ponds, fencing, bridges and landscaping.

“We have a complete, well-rounded education scheme in mind,” Williams said.

Phase III involves digging geothermal wells for heat and installing pumps, and building a teahouse, gazebo and arboretum.

Phase IV is completion of the project.

“We feel the garden would become a destination,” Williams said.

This is not the first go-around for the botanic garden society.

In 2006, the 400-member nonprofit group had big plans for a 52-acre site held by the Fargo Park District in north Fargo, next to The Children’s Museum at Yunker Farm. Those plans were put on hold a couple of years ago.

The land is held by the Fargo Park District, but the U.S. National Park Service maintains covenants on it that don’t allow commercial uses, such as venues for weddings and business conferences, Park District director of finance Jim Larson said.

Those are important parts of the botanic society’s plans to finance continued construction, Williams said. It means the group needs another spot to let its dreams take root.

Still, since 1996 the society has created several display gardens near Yunker Farm, Williams said, among them: the Alerus Financial butterfly garden, a woodland garden, an alphabet garden, a hummingbird patio, a rain garden, a chrysanthemum test garden, a turnaround garden and the Seeds of Opportunity garden, where food is grown for a Fargo food pantry.

The group also maintains the atrium of the NRI building at 700 1st Ave. S. and all of the plantings at the West Acres mall, Williams said.

Williams said the group won’t raise funds for the Japanese garden until it has a viable site.

The botanic society has about $1 million for operations and to start construction of the Japanese garden, she said.

Some grants may also be available with the help of the Japan-America Cultural Exchange Society of Okayama, Japan, she said.

Williams said there is a small Japanese garden in Grand Forks, but no other large gardens of its type between the Twin Cities and Denver.

“We’re not looking to compete [with other metro-area attractions]. We think we complete the attraction array in the Fargo-Moorhead area,” Williams said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583