It was love at first site for us at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach. We stopped in there on our drive north between national parks on Florida’s Atlantic coast. Our Morikami visit has been one of the most relaxing, refreshing and enjoyable highlights of Project 100 so far.
The 16-acre spread contains six distinct garden types — three rock gardens, a modern romantic garden, a paradise stroll garden, and a shinden garden (a style incorporating islands in a pond connected by bridges, usually viewed from the water) — with numerous stone lanterns and water features. The gardens also incorporate native Florida vegetation along with typical Japanese plants.
At every turn we couldn’t help but sigh contentedly and exclaim, “This is so beautiful!” In addition to the manicured plants on display, iguanas, fish, turtles and birds were everywhere.
One inquisitive cattle egret followed us the entire length of the main garden path. We couldn’t believe his utter lack of fear of people and his stamina in trotting along beside us. He poked in and out of bushes as he stalked his prey, snatching up and swallowing lizard after lizard and cocking his head at us between gulps. By our count he ate at least two dozen.
And that was just in the time we were there. I don’t know how many times he circles the garden each day or how many lizards he bags on a daily basis. I’d also be curious to see how many steps he takes each day if they could attach a Fitbit to him!
We had a delightful bento box lunch on the outdoor terrace of Morikami’s Cornell Café overlooking the main pond, then doubled back to view the bonsai display and museum exhibits on Yamato Island. The building housed two excellent exhibits.
Japan Through the Eyes of a Child had replicas of rooms in a typical Japanese house, a school classroom, the train, shops and other aspects of daily life. Among the fascinating facts we learned about Japan? Kit Kat bars come in more than 100 different flavors there. Apparently the Japanese pronunciation of the word “kit-kat” sounds the same as the phrase meaning, “You will surely win,” making this candy bar a popular good luck treat.
A bit sadder was the exhibit detailing the ultimately unsuccessful Japanese farming colony in south Florida called Yamato. Japanese settlers began arriving in 1905 and made a go of raising fruit and other crops for a time, but many settlers sold their property in the 1920s. By World War II, those who stayed were forced out by the U.S. government in 1942 to make way for an Army facility. Among the settlers labeled enemy resident aliens — and one of the last remaining colonists — was George Sukeji Morikami. His donation of land to Palm Beach County in 1973 paved the way for these incredible gardens today.
Regardless of the fact that we adore Japanese gardens in general and have spent years as volunteer gardeners at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix, for any lover of beauty and nature who lives in or visits south Florida, a trip to Morikami is a must.