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Rockford’s Anderson Japanese Gardens started as one couple’s backyard project but today, it’s ranked as one of the top Japanese gardens in the nation.

Not only does it provide a peaceful place to unwind, it’s also the site for concerts, festivals, weddings, and more.

A few of the sounds that greet visitors are rushing waterfalls, birdsong, and babbling brooks, elements that provide a sense of peace and tranquility that transport visitors to a whole new world.

“A Japanese garden is comprised of many meandering pathways, with encroachments,” founder David Anderson said. “It might be a boulder that encroaches the path, it may be a branch you have to move around. That’s all done by design to kind of slow you down.”

The sprawling, 12 acre garden has humble beginnings.

“It was never intended to be open to the general public,” said Anderson.

It started as a simple backyard project for Anderson’s parents, John and Linda, in 1978 after John was inspired by a trip to Japan.

“My dad really loved the way those gardens made him feel,” Anderson recalls. “Fas forward it a few years and, having built a home on a hillside, with a large pond at the base of the hill, kind of a large, swampy pond, might I add, at the base of the hill, he thought, ‘You know what? Maybe we can make a Japanese-style garden with some kind of Japanese characteristics.”

The endeavor quickly expanded to include even more foliage, wildlife, and classic Japanese structures, like a tea house.

“As you come around the next bend or the next corner, a new scene emerges,” Anderson described.

Every Tuesday, dozens of concertgoers gather at Anderson Gardens for live music. More than 200 different artists travel to perform at Anderson every year.

Attendees call it “the perfect environment.”

“Spiritual,” Sherri Crawford says. “It is very, very spiritual. And when I say that, it’s not about religion. It’s about reaching your soul.”

Sharon Deacon adds, “And, it’s connecting with nature. And music. And what’s a better evening than that?”

Anderson Japanese Gardens has been ranked the 4th best Japanese garden in the country, according to US City Traveler.

Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $7 for children.