Sunday, July 22, 2012

Shibata Garden and Mt. Eden Nursery Company

Last Sunday was a beautiful day in the Bay Area so we decided to take another HALS day trip. I pulled out my list of historic sites for Alameda County and decided to visit the Shibata Garden - a privately owned Japanese style garden in Hayward. Since I’m working on the Sakai and Oishi Nurseries, I thought it would be interesting to see how the Shibata Garden compared.

We used our TomTom navigation system to find the site and when we arrived were puzzled to find a relatively new business park – no trace of a historic nursery or garden, but we weren’t going to give up yet. We drove into the business park and found a sign for the Shibata Garden. Driving to the back corner of the parking lot, wedged between the business park and freeway off ramp, we found the garden. I parked the car in the shade, for the benefit of our two yellow labs, and headed for an elaborately detailed, traditional Japanese wooden gate into the garden.

Once inside the gate the architecture of the big box business park buildings was screened by evergreen and coniferous trees – mostly Redwoods/Sequoia sempervirens, Casurina, Magnolia and a variety of pines. The path here is pea gravel, there are several large, sculptural boulders (4-6’ in dimension), and the first of several stone pagodas found in the garden, each about 4 feet in height.

Offset by a jog is a curved wooden bridge that rises up as it traverses a curvilinear shaped pond that is lined with stones of varying sizes. The bridge railing is wood with simple detailing and a 2x6 cap, painted red. At the far end of the, bridge there is a concrete and stone patio that widens out to about 10’ x 12’. One section of the pond edge is defined by wood logs set on end – these jut in and out to form a strong serpentine line.

From the bridge walking left, on a three foot wide concrete and stone path, leads to an elaborately detailed entrance to the residence. There is lawn at either side of the path, a sculpted pine, and a low, busy palm to the right of the door. There is a large Sycamore tree at the corner of the house and beyond that a small brick and glass greenhouse with a U-shaped workbench inside.

At the rear of the house there is a small nicely detailed structure (about 10’ x 15’) made of concrete block, glass block and wood. One can see Japanese joints in the roof structure. The building is used to store tools and garden supplies. A line of Casurina trees provides screening inside the fence and an impressive line of timber bamboo is behind the house.

Walking around the back of the residence there is a dense planting of a smaller, much more closely spaced bamboo at the side of the house that creates a dense, visual screen. At the front of the residence there is a brick patio with a stone fireplace and wood shade structure approximately 16’ x 32’. A brick path, 3 feet wide, leads to a door to the house and two wide steps lead back to the pond. The brick patio, fireplace and shade structure appear to have been constructed in the 1950s.

Between the brick patio and the pond there is a stone path consisting of flat stones – 8” – 12” in diameter, three across forming a path 30” wide. The path curves to the right and terminates with a boulder at the residence. To the left, the path transitions to flat, flagstones set in dirt and the edge of the path is defined by pieces of 3”x6” wood members set on end 5” high. The wood pieces are offset from each other to form a zigzag pattern. As you walk around this path, that encircles the pond, the wood members on the left side change to a rock wall 12” to 20” high.

At the far end of the pond, furthest from the house a grouping of large boulders are set on end and are set back from the edge of the pond. This appears to have been the source of water for the pond. Originally there was very likely a small waterfall here. A line of rounded boulders, along the path route, are placed so one can step over the water that would have flowed from the falls to the pond. This spot is the focal point of the primary view from the residence and is accented by the waterfall, a mature Japanese Maple to the left and a Cherry Tree in the background. The pond with its reflecting surface and floating water lilies are in the foreground.

Zenjuro (or Jinjiro) Shibata started Mt. Eden Nursery Company in Hayward. Originally, they grew vegetables and had fields of flowers. The first greenhouse was constructed in 1918 and was used to grow carnations, but in the mid 1930s they switched to roses as their primary crop. According to the California Florida Plant Company website, “During the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war, friends and neighbors ran the business. The Zapatini Family took care of the Mt. Eden Nursery, and returned it to the Shibatas as prosperous as ever, a shining example of generosity during a dark time. After the war's end, Mt. Eden came under the leadership of the oldest son, Yoshimi, supported by his three younger brothers. In 1957, Mr. Shibata founded the California Florida Plant Company and under his leadership the company grew to become the premier supplier of carnations in the world. Yoshima Shibata was a floral industry leader for nearly 70 years. He is the former president of the Wholesale Florist and Florist Supply Association and served on the boards of directors of the Sumitomo Bank of California and the California State Chamber of Commerce, as well as Roses, Inc., the national trade association of rose growers.”

During World War II the Shibata family was interned at Tule Lake. After the war they went to Chicago, Illinois and then returned to their home at Mt. Eden. At one point the nursery included 34 greenhouses, a boiler house, and a packing house in addition to the residence. The Online Archive of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, has a black and white photograph of Jinjiro and Yoshima Shibata inside one of their greenhouses, taken in June of 1945.

The garden is owned and maintained by the Business park and is available to their tenants; otherwise it is a private garden and not open to the public. It is a good example of a traditional Japanese garden.


  1. I have had many opportunities to visit the garden. It is truly magical place. Margaret Hasegawa, California Florida Plant Company, Salinas Califonia

  2. Margaret,

    I hope you will be pleased to know that I have submitted the Shibata Garden to the Historic American Landscapes Survey. This site will be listed as a cultural landscape at the Library of Congress.


  3. Great article Margaret!
    Very enjoyable read take a look at our recent article on Historic Garden Landscapes

  4. How exciting to find this info on the web. When I graduated from the Ohio State University, I was encouraged to take a job at Mt. Eden Nursery by my professor who had gradiuated with Yoshimi Shibata. Mr. Shibata, who went by "Shimi," offered the Japanese house as a residence for my husband and I as long as we desired. What an amazing place to live in 1974! When I left in 1980, Shimi's grandson, Eric, was beginnning to play a bigger part in the business. I wonder what happened to the family and to the business. Shimi and his wife, Grace, were incredible individuals!

  5. Ann,

    Receiving comments like yours is one of the satisfying rewards of writing a blog. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    It is also nice to learn a little more about the family associated with this garden. I hope your career path led you to continued involvement with gardens and similar special places.


  6. That was indeed a cool article! Thank a lot for the share!

  7. I truly like to reading your post. Thank you so much for taking the time to share such a nice information.

  8. Lots of Good information in your post, I favorited your blog post so I can visit again in the future, Thanks.
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  9. Thanks for sharing this with us! Some really amazing features.
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  10. I am a big fan of stone or rock fences, but I have never seen one like this before.
    No, your glasses aren't dirty. I had to take this while driving as there was no place for me to pull over, therefore it is a little blurry.

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