Recounted in honor of the garden’s inclusion in this weekend’s California Garden and Landscape History Society tour of Japanese gardens:
I brightened in the backseat as the real estate agent detoured down Lima Street to tell the story of Italia Mia, the estate built in Sierra Madre at the century’s start by a southern heiress who fell in love with Italy but ended up here instead, a bon vivant who lavished her home with hillside gardens including this one – we stopped –now the oldest private Japanese garden in southern California. The little house came later behind this wrought iron fence bordered by a thicket of bamboo, beyond this garden gate with the kanji inscription that foretells mosses abundant as ocean waves, and farther on, inside the front door carved with bluebirds on a blossoming branch, and out back again into the open-armed garden, intact and exquisite, its ponds and rocks poised in amazing place since 1916, under the shifting shade of ancient sycamores, the water falling in the hushed company of a tea house, the pines pining and each perfect plant waiting patiently for a gardener.
The whole thing was built for Zen, the realtor added unknowingly, knowing nothing about us, knowing least of all how to judge the silence that had frozen us in place, breathless and still with the stunning arrival in a story that was suddenly ours.
And back next week with more on this business of happiness.