A gift to the city of St. Paul by sister city Nagasaki, with funding provided by the Ordway family, the 1-acre Ordway Japanese Garden was opened to the public in 1979. Using hardy Minnesota species, landscape architect Masami Matsuda created a Sansui Japanese garden of plants, rocks, and water inside the park, just north of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory.
A large pond planted with water lilies is crossed by several level stone pedestrian bridges and contains a turtle island planted with trained and trimmed pine trees. Stone lanterns and a teahouse emphasize the traditional nature of the garden. A walking path leads from the entrance of the garden to a teahouse, from which the path winds through a pine grove to lead back to the entrance. Varying textures and colors of foliage create interest throughout the seasons.
Matsuda returned to St. Paul in the late 1980s to revise the garden and train park staff in the concept, design, and maintenance of a traditional Japanese garden. He was followed in 1992 by horticulturalist John Powell who embraced the Matsuda's original concept and redesigned some of the features and adding the path from the teahouse. An addition to the Conservatory led to the creation of the Ordway Gardens, which include the Japanese Garden, and both were re-opened in 2013.