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Downtown Providence

Japanese Garden at Roger Williams Park, Landscape/Open Space Award

The 2-acre Japanese Garden in Roger Williams Park was built by the Works Progress Administration between 1935 and 1939. The original design concept consisted of three islands set within a man-made lake, surrounded by a granite block wall at the perimeter. Five bridges were installed to connect the islands to the mainland. The garden was updated in the 1960s by landscape architect Ralph Hartman, who studied garden design in Japan. Hartman added the “mountain” to the north of the garden, berms, the naturalist beach area, and an array of Japanese coniferous and deciduous trees and shrubs.

The restoration in 2005 began with research that revealed the original garden features and plantings. The goal of the restoration was to preserve the existing historic features, character and layers of history of both the 1930s and 1960s design concepts, improve the conditions of the garden for visitor safety, and enhance the garden’s Japanese aesthetic. The Providence Parks Department consulted with Landscape Architect Fred Holman and Landscape Designer Mary Ellen Flanagan. The Quinque Foundation provided major funding. Site contractor was Yard Works Inc. Restoring historic public gardens presents a significant challenges. By addressing disrepair caused by regular use, and updating the safety features, the Parks Department has enhanced and preserved the historic garden for continued use and enjoyment by all.