By RYOKO OHNISHI
RAFU STAFF WRITER
The Southern California Gardeners’ Federation (SCGF) celebrated their 55th anniversary last weekend. A total of 230 people gathered for the banquet on Saturday at the Kyoto Grand Hotel in Little Tokyo. The anniversary was celebrated in conjunction with the 12th convention of the Pacific Coast Landscape Gardeners’ Alliance that brought 20 members from the Vancouver Japanese Gardeners’ Association.
SCGF membership was around 5,000 during its peak years in the 1970s; however, over the past decades, the number has declined. Today, SCGF membership count is at 1,300, and in the past five years, 250 members have passed away. Inheritance of the professional knowledge and skills of the Japanese gardeners has become an important issue.
Derek Furukawa, banquet emcee, said, “Today, most of the members have matured and the committee is getting smaller and smaller. Why do we still do this? I’ve learned a lot from the federation and the members, a sense of community and volunteerism. It is not about ‘me’ but about ‘we.’ That’s why we continue this.”
Guest speaker, Dr. Takeo Uesugi, emeritus professor at Cal Poly Pomona, College of Environmental Design, emphasized the strength of Japanese gardeners and the beauty of the Japanese gardens, which persists despite current and past times of economic hardship.
Uesugi noted that the natural beauty and integrated simplicity would make Japanese gardens survive and endure. In addition, a Japanese garden can be created by using local materials, landscape, people and history.
“Gardening is a profession that deals with nature, operates on a trust basis, and has a low overhead cost. I have been investigating the possibility of establishing a non-profit organization where both gardeners in Japan and SCGG can work together. I would like to ask your support on the occasion of the 55th anniversary,” said Uesugi.
Valuing those Japanese gardeners and Japanese gardens, Uesugi concluded that educational opportunities for the next generation will be secured by networking internationally.
Brian Yamasaki, SCGF president and a former student of Dr. Uesugi thanked all for the effort and work that has been done by the predecessors in both Japanese and English, “Minasama no okagedesu,” and the audience gave him a big round of applause.
SCGF was formed in 1955 to fight against the anti-immigrant Maloney Bill that was proposed to the State Assembly (AB1671) and required gardeners to have a state license. This bill would have excluded Japanese immigrants who had limited proficiency in English. The formation of the SCGF successfully resulted in turning down the Bill the following year. In 1986, a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers was also introduced, and the Los Angeles City Council also voted against the prohibition of the blower.
A slideshow that was presented during the banquet showed various historical moments of the group. For example, photographs of the Japanese gardens, which were created in the concentration camps during World War II, and also various activities of the SCGF such as a group picture of the establishment; construction of the James Irvine Japanese Garden at Japanese American Community & Cultural Center; equipment and plant sales; and the bonsai, photo club and friendship societies.
In the last slide, the last poem written by Shoji Nagumo (1890-1976), one of the legendary leaders of the group, was introduced.
Shuno niwa no ochiba kakimashi tsugino yo mo (I will be happy to sweep the leaves of the God’s garden/the nature that God created, even in my next life/the future generation, after I die)
A five-foot-tall flower arrangement using Chrysanthemum flowers titled “Iwaibana (celebration)” by Yokou (Kaz) Kitajima of Sogetsu School of Ikebana was displayed and welcomed the guests at the entrance.