Heart of Louisiana: Imahara Botanical Garden

St. Francisville, La.- A lot of people find gardening an enjoyable pastime in their retirement, but a St. Francisville man is taking that to the extreme, as he converts a wooded, rugged landscape into a beautiful botanical garden.   There is an explosion of color as the sun climbs above the treetops and out of the shadows.

The camellias, the azaleas, and a dozen other flowing shrubs dazzle in the morning sunlight.  The early morning fog is quickly chased away by a light breeze.

A few years ago, this hilly 54-acre landscape was a wilderness, rutted by Mississippi River floods. That was before retired landscaper, Walter Imahara, started building his dream.

"I don't really draw a plan for it. I visualize, when I stand at different parts of the garden, where my eyes hit, and it's by view," said Imahara.

Imahara loves the hilly landscape, with it's drop in elevation from the top to the bottom of the old ravine.

He created a series of nine ponds and fountains that form a series of cascading steps.

"Well, there's nine children in our family, so we gave each one a pond, but each one has a water feature in it, so you can hear the water," said Imahara.

Imahara learned about gardening from his father.  The family owned a nursery and landscaping business in Baton Rouge,  but their journey to Louisiana was a difficult one.

Walter's dad was a very successful farmer in California.  He was president of an agricultural coop, but everything changed for the Imahara family with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The war with Japan sent thousands of Japanese-Americans to internment camps, even though the Imaharas were born American.

The family spent the war behind fences at a camp in Arkansas.

"If you take a man's life at age 37, and he's got to start all over, he was bitter.  I was 4 years old, and at 4 years old and you spend three and a half years in camp, it's not really drastic. It's not a pleasant one, but it's not a horrible like some of the other camps," explained Imahara.

Imahara says his father, after retiring, learned how to read Japanese and began creating haikus, wood carvings that are a form of Japanese poetry and the bitterness was chiseled away in his woodwork.

"All of his haiku was about harmony, about your fellowship with man," said Imahara.

But son, Walter, is not content and not satisfied yet with his fast-growing garden.

He uses soil and watering techniques to stimulate the plant growth and he hopes to add a miniature Mount Fuji and a Japanese garden.

It's a dream, becoming a reality, that is now a unique part of the Louisiana landscape.

Imahara's Botanical Garden is open to visitors.  Walter will give you the tour and he can also pass along some great tips for getting the most out of your own garden.