Japanese Garden at the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant – Los Angeles, California - Atlas Obscura
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Los Angeles, California

Japanese Garden at the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant

This traditional garden in the San Fernando Valley doubled for Star Fleet Academy, and is irrigated entirely by wastewater. 

Whether daydreaming of an escape to a Far East Zen paradise or enrolling at Starfleet Academy, a stroll through this traditional Japanese Garden, part of a not-so-glamorous water reclamation plant in the San Fernando Valley, will instantly transport you in either direction.

Appropriately named Suiho-en, or the “Garden of Water and Fragrance,” this gorgeous (and sometimes smelly) six-and-a-half acre oasis sits next to a Van Nuys water treatment plant, where wastewater is processed and purified for the city of Los Angeles, and also used to maintain the lush, perfectly manicured garden.

The idea to install a garden next to the plant belonged to a city engineer named Donald C. Tillman (they named the plant for him), and was made a reality in the early 1980s by Dr. Koichi Kawana, a renowned landscape designer, architect and long-time professor of Japanese design at UCLA. A native of Hokkaido, Japan, Dr. Kawana aspired to combine traditional Japanese principles with local horticulture and the contemporary surroundings of the San Fernando Valley, according to a personal doctrine he coined “mystic profundity.”

The garden has enchanting waterfalls, a variety of symbolic trees, winding pathways and an abundance of wildlife. Dr. Kawana also built a large aristocratic Shoin building, a working teahouse and tea garden (run by weekend volunteers), a storybook-inspired zig-zag bridge over an iris pond, and four types of traditional stone lanterns, hand-carved by artisans in Japan.

In addition to classic Japanese architecture, one of the most prominent features is the dazzling and futuristic administration building. It has starred in a number of Hollywood productions, perhaps most famously as Star Trek’s Starfleet Academy (minus the 24th century CGI buildings, officers and Golden Gate Bridge).

Designed to bloom in all four seasons, the garden draws casual visitors, professional photographers, weddings, and—of course—the colorful cosplayers of LA’s Anime Expo.

Know Before You Go

The garden is in Woodley Park in Van Nuys, part of the city of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley.

Closed Saturdays.

There is a small admission fee payable at the gift shop, which will gain you access and a courtesy map/pamphlet. Or, for no additional charge, the garden offers walking tours (by appointment only).

Not that it isn’t always perfect in LA, but the garden will occasionally close if there is inclement weather (or if maximum capacity at the garden is reached). You can call ahead to check for any closures (818-756-8166).