ROCKFORD, Illinois - In a region more noted for cows and corn, I found a delightful oasis of koi and maples.

Anderson Japanese Gardens is one of the loveliest and most tranquil Asian-influenced gardens in the Midwest.

What began as a private garden in a swampy backyard has grown into a beloved public showcase of plants, water features and Asian-influenced structures, sculptures, paths and other hardscapes.

The garden was constructed by Rockford businessman John Anderson, who had a deep appreciation of Japanese culture and aesthetics. In 1978, Anderson commissioned designer Hoichi Kurisu, a former director of the Portland Japanese Garden in Oregon, to carefully plan what is now a lush, tranquil and beautiful 12-acre site.

In 1998, Anderson and his wife donated the site to a nonprofit organization that now operates the gardens.

At the entrance, a large stone vessel collects the water slowly dropping from a traditional bamboo-style fountain. The basket of paper cups next to the vessel indicated, to me at least, that this trickle was not only beautiful, but also potable. I drank, in what seemed like my own private welcoming ceremony, as I continued on.

The tranquility of the gardens is nearly a physical force, emphasized by burbling streams, rustling maple and willow leaves and the soft splashing of several waterfalls; the loudest sound is the occasional duck quacking crossly at visitors, or perhaps at the koi swimming just below their feet.

Curving pathways reveal a picturesque surprise around seemingly every corner: teahouses, stunning bridges in a variety of traditional styles, decorative gates and a mesmerizing raked gravel garden.

Benches are placed at thoughtful locations, seemingly with meditation in mind.

An informative map and guide that I had picked up at the visitor center highlighted places of interest. It also offered a bit of background on features such as the stone marker carved "Furo mon" or Ageless Gate, a reminder, the map suggested, to stay young in spirit.

My spirit felt young, indeed, and my visit made it easy to understand why the gardens are such a beloved and highly regarded horticultural attraction.

Garden lovers who are in the area should also consider a stop at Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, an 11,000-square-foot tropical-plant conservatory connected to the Sinnissippi Rose Garden, all located along the scenic Rock River near downtown Rockford.

And when you’re ready for corn and cows again, there is plenty to see just outside town.

For information about Anderson Japanese Gardens visit andersongardens.org. For information about Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens visit nicholasconservatory.com.

Steve Stephens can be reached at sstephens@dispatch.com.