Gilbert Sister Cities opened its Friendship Garden on May 20 at Gilbert Regional Park, completing an eight-year quest to have such a place.

Representatives from Gilbert’s sister city of Antrim-Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland, and the local Chinese American community were on hand for the celebration led by Mayor Brigette Peterson. Gilbert’s other sister city is Leshan, China.

Gilbert Sister Cities President Greg Tilque told ceremony attendees that he originally was inspired by a Tempe Sister Cities display at Kiwanis Park as well as Leshan’s Sister Cities park.

“Our vision for the garden was to be a place of solitude, reflection, comfort, and a place where friendship, kindness, and inclusivity are practiced,” he said.

Antrim-Newtownabbey Mayor Billy Webb led the delegation from that city, located about 18 miles northwest of Belfast.

“I'm looking forward to seeing how we can continue to nurture our relationship, grow our friendships and continue to blossom together,” Webb said in his remarks.

Restaurateur “Dragon” Sam Szeto, owner of Dragon Wok Fine Chinese Restaurant in Gilbert, spoke on behalf of the local Chinese American community, which was active in supporting the garden’s installation. Szeto said Gilbert has been welcoming to him.

“I feel like I’m part of the family here,” he said. “I’m always [going to be] part of you guys. Thank you for welcoming a brother.”

The garden is located on the southern end of Gilbert Regional Park’s developed portion. Among its features are more than 600 plants and 10 trees from all three communities, planted by Gilbert Leadership Class 30; a 30-foot mural representing all three communities from artist Julie Berryman, who is of Chinese and English/Irish decent; two small bridges invoking the idea of bridging cultures and communities; a white crane sculpture and a holestone sculpture from the cultures of each of Gilbert’s sister cities; and a water fountain meant to be a reminder of County Antrim’s Giant Causeway.

Gilbert Sister Cities plans to have a larger grand opening for the community In November. It also is opening a second round of brick sales to support ongoing maintenance costs and a Phase II to shade the garden.