Rockford's been pegged as miserable and often leads the state in crime numbers, but what doesn't often make the news is the city's hidden gem. The Anderson Japanese Gardens takes a number one rating, as the top Japanese garden in all of North America. I visited to get a glimpse of a summer beneath the trees, in the peaceful place that takes Rockford from miserable to the top of the ranks.
"I have one last roll of film to take on my 32 year old camera that I'm retiring since I bought a digital camera at Christmas time, and I thought this would be a nice place to come to shoot my last roll of film," says Shaun Milligan, an Anderson Japanese Gardens visitor.
On any given day, you can find people, like Shaun, strolling through Rockford's Anderson Japanese Gardens, in awe of its beauty, looking to capture that picture-perfect image.
"It's the number one Japanese garden in the world, from what I read and what I hear," Milligan says. "It doesn't get any better than that."
And Rockford's proud of it. Founded in 1978 by the anderson family, the garden's among the most elite in the world, sizing up to gardens as fabulous as ones in Korea, Oregon and California. David Anderson is part of the founding family and says this time of year is perfect for visitors, not only for the spectacular views, but for the summer events as well.
"Typically, we close six o'clock, which makes it difficult for people who are working to enjoy the garden, so we wanted to develop a family friendly way for people to come out and enjoy the garden in a very affordable manner," Anderson says.
So they started Tuesday Evening in the Gardens, a way for people to enjoy live music, food, friends and later hours.
"People are walking around, setting up their picnic baskets. Some people have blankets and little tables with flower arrangements on it," Anderson says. "Some people bring their little chairs and set up on the lawn."
Last week's event featured Bun E Carlos and city market vendors like DiTullios, Woodfire Pizza and Zammutos, but aside from a night out, you can enjoy a day in the garden too. From guided tours, yoga under the pavilion, to even feeding some fish. You can do it all.
"It's beautiful anytime of day," David Anderson. "Any season of the year, it's always different."