The First 25 Years of the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt

On November 6, 2024, the Golden State Bonsai Federation’s Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt, in Oakland, California, will be celebrating its first 25 years. It was as early as 1974, when the concept for the bonsai garden came about during a conversation between Toicho Domoto and Bill Hashimoto, two notable Japanese American bonsai pioneers. They were interested in preserving bonsai produced in northern California. They understood bonsai required a permanent place to continue to thrive. They asked themselves what will happen when we can no longer care for and maintain our bonsai trees? The answer to their question was and is the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt.

On April 5, 1997, an official groundbreaking ceremony was held at the site located within the Gardens at Lake Merritt. Construction took more than two years. Support for the bonsai and suiseki display garden came from individuals and bonsai clubs throughout the State of California. Hundreds of volunteers and donors were responsible for making the concept into a reality.

BGLM opened its gates to the public on November 6, 1999, by hosting a grand opening celebration of bonsai and suiseki, held on site at the Gardens of Lake Merritt and Lakeside Park Garden Center. Dennis Makishima was master of ceremonies for the grand opening, including then Mayor Jerry Brown, John Naka who talked at length, Harry Hirao, Yasuo Mitsuya of Japan, recreation and parks Officials, and many more. In addition to the ribbon cutting, there was a lively celebration inside the Lakeside Park Garden Center; well attended, Japanese Taiko drum music, donated sake keg, etc.

Since the gates were opened to the public, the collection has dramatically grown in size. The most significant historic and legacy trees include the historic Daimyo Oak (Tree #115) brought to the U.S. during President Abraham Lincoln’s administration in the 1860’s, the 500 year old Japanese Black Pine (Tree #262) donated by Mas Imazumi, and featured at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, and legacy trees by famous bonsai pioneer artists; Harry Hirao, Jimmy Inadomi and John Naka just to name a few.

A group of dedicated volunteers is working to publish a book which captures the history of the garden thus far.

The book, which working title is “The First 25 Years of the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt”, will present the very best bonsai trees in the collection and to celebrate the many donors, supporters and volunteers who have contributed to the evolution of what is now a museum quality bonsai and suiseki garden.

Pre-sales for the book will start in mid-April, with a publication date scheduled for November 2024.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *