Senior Living



Travel Trending with Kathy Witt: Kentucky's Japanese-style strolling garden is a spa for the soul and the senses

By Kathy Witt, Kathy Witt on

Published in Senior Living Features

As people look for scenic spaces to stroll outdoors and maintain safe social distancing in the midst of a global pandemic, Georgetown, Ky., invites fresh air seekers to visit a pocket of paradise designed specifically for this purpose: Yuko-en on the Elkhorn ( The Japanese-style strolling garden given a Kentucky flourish is the official Kentucky-Japan Friendship Garden – and the only one of its kind.

A visit to this enchanting refuge, especially during these uncertain times, is like a spa visit for the senses and the soul.

Step through the garden's Tokugawa gate and enter a world of color, fragrance, graceful sculptural elements and serenity, with waterfalls and chirping birds adding a soothing soundtrack and the creek, ponds and Japanese-style stone garden inspiring quiet reflection.

"There is a sense of calm at Yuko-En that to me seems like an oasis," said Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather, who has been heavily involved in the garden since it was created nearly 20 years ago. "It is a unique experience and a treasure."

Sweet-smelling blooms, including Japanese irises, wisteria, daylilies and varieties of hydrangeas – oakleaf, wild and Annabelle – provide a healthy dose of aromatherapy. These same flowers, along with the waterlilies on the reflecting pool, add bursts of purple, cream, yellow, pink and snowy white, to a landscape layered in greenery. Twenty-six different types of trees provide shade and shadows, texture and tonality.

"The garden in May is coming out of its winter slumber," said Yuko-En board member Arlene Wilson. "The redbuds, Japanese cherry trees and American yellowwoods are starting to bloom against a backdrop of a lovely pine grove and cedar trees."

The garden design gently guides visitors along paths of native cane to bridges and a koi pond, where brilliantly colored, gape-mouthed fish jockey to swallow up any food tossed their way. Lanterns, including the Kotoji lantern, grace the landscape, lending authenticity and artistry to the pond. A Maho-An Tea House, designed to be used for a tea ceremony, provides a quiet resting place. Another house, the Raku, holds a kiln and signifies the blending of two cultures. It is the only working kiln within a Japanese-style garden, in or out of Japan.

Named for the literal meaning of the words, "yuko-en" – friendship garden – it is based on such Japanese gardening principles as working in harmony with nature, weaving in symbolism, creating a miniature world and framing views beyond the garden that connect the garden to the world beyond its gates.

"One of the highlights to Yuko-En is its proximity to downtown Georgetown," said Wilson. "It sits on the banks of Elkhorn Creek, which served as the pathway to settlements in the Bluegrass and continues to be a shared resource in the life of the community."

As home of the largest Toyota manufacturing plant in the world, Georgetown is a natural setting for Yuko-En, which was officially proclaimed the Kentucky-Japan Friendship Garden by the Legislature of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The four-season, five-plus acre garden was planted as an homage to the sister city relationship established in 1990 between this central Kentucky town and Tahara, Japan, located in Aichi Prefecture in central Honshu Island two years after Toyota broke ground here.


"In these difficult times, we have to continue to appreciate beauty and the natural world around us and Yuko-En is a stunning example of an opportunity for people to do so while allowing for social distancing," said Prather.

A self-guided tour brochure is available for downloading to take along on a visit and learn more about the native plants and array of landmarks tucked throughout park. The setting beckons picnickers, walkers, outdoor lovers, photographers and those who love a peaceful space for quiet meditation. Admission is free and dogs are welcome.

Those preferring to visit Yuko-En from their living rooms can enjoy a virtual tour or watch a video. Either way, there is an opportunity to experience the splendors and calming sensibility of this garden.


(Author and travel and lifestyle writer Kathy Witt feels you should never get to the end of your bucket list; there's just too much to see and do in the world. Contact her at, @KathyWitt.)

(c)2020 Kathy Witt

Visit Kathy Witt at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.




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