Geneva club revives commitment to Japanese Tea Garden

The Japanese Tea Garden in the Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva has been an oasis of calm for 112 years.

Through the shady spot, visitors walk a path that symbolizes the path of life with its joys and sorrows. Pavers present difficulties that need to be overcome. Two connected ginkgo trees represent love and marriage.

There’s a pond, a teahouse, and a miniature Mount Fuji, complete with a ribbon of foliage that turns red in the fall depicting a lava flow. It’s a popular spot for wedding, engagement, prom, and homecoming photos.

But as any seasoned gardener knows, it doesn’t take much for a garden to lose its good looks.

“We felt like the garden was really stunted,” said Bobbi Bigham, a member of the Geneva Garden Club. The Kane County Forest Preserve District kept up with the mowing and pond maintenance. But the garden required basic, labor-intensive work, such as B. weeding by hand.

“It used to be really elegant,” she said.

This year, the association has further expanded its long-standing commitment to the garden.

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“It needed a new set of multiple eyes (on it),” Bigham said.

Members were out there every Friday morning from April through September.

They hauled out cart after cart of weeds. They cleaned and decorated the tea house. Members with an eye for design joined in, redesigning some beds, adding a bed and restoring an original dry bed to add color and texture to the garden.


“These are plant people who know things, not just pull weeds,” Higham said. The club worked with the district botanist on the project.

“It’s really pretty,” said club member Kelly Miller, pointing out hydrangeas planted in a spruce-up circle where wedding ceremonies take place.

“We’re sitting on a gold mine in Kane County,” said member Linda Bradley. The Forest Conservation District charges $250 per two-hour rental session for these photo shoots and wedding ceremonies.

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The history

It’s not the first time the club has restored the garden. In 1972, the late Darlene Larson brought the garden to the attention of the club.

She had hosted a Japanese exchange student and taken the student to a picnic in the nature reserve. According to the association, the state of the garden was embarrassing for her.

“It was a disaster,” Higham said.

The garden was created around 1910 by the well-known Japanese garden designer Taro Otsuka. It was commissioned by George and Nelle Fabyan for their 300-acre estate that spanned the Fox River.

After the Fabyans died in the 1930s, the Forest Conservation District bought 235 acres.

Larson founded the Friends of Fabyan in 1979 and was its longtime president. She died in 2018. The Friends of Fabyan raised money and undertook restoration projects for the former property, including turning the Fabyan mansion into a museum.

In June, the club and the Friends of Fabyan dedicated the teahouse to Larson’s memory. It now contains items she collected, including a kimono and a tea set. The garden association donated an authentic tea table.

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Ongoing Conservation

As well as fighting the weeds endlessly – “there is no such thing as a weed-free garden,” said Higham – club members have added structure and color to the garden. They put more benches for people to rest on.

If you want to walk through the garden this year, you don’t have much time left. It is open from 1pm to 4pm on Wednesdays and Sundays until September 30th.

Private tours can also be arranged by contacting the Forest Conservation District. Otherwise you can look in from the outside.

The association tries to create enthusiasm for the ongoing work of keeping the garden in good shape.

“We’re doing this for future generations,” Higham said. “We want people to be as proud of it as we are.”

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