Huntington Library's traditional Chinese garden takes root in California

The gardens’ meticulous design reflects the sense of peace found in the Chinese relationship with nature.

| February 2009

Huntington Library Jade Ribbon Bridge

BRIDGING EAST AND WEST: The Jade Ribbon Bridge forms the focal point of the Huntington Library’s Chinese garden in San Marino, Calif.

Deloris Reinke

Suzhou, one of China’s oldest and most prosperous cities, is home to magnificent gardens that were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997. The gardens’ meticulous design reflects the sense of peace found in the Chinese relationship with nature.

Now, a bit of those gardens’ poetic grace can be experienced without leaving American soil. At the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif., a Suzhou-style classical garden achieves the harmonious balance between humanity and nature that is found in the Chinese gardens.

Achieving the authentic look of a Suzhou-style garden in California has been no small undertaking. The garden has been some 10 years in the making, with a budget of more than $18 million. After first opening in a preview phase in 2006, the garden has an official opening Feb. 23, to coincide with the Huntington’s Chinese New Year Festival. After that, the garden will continue to develop for some years.

Authentic craftsmanship

To create the garden, the Huntington Library contacted the Suzhou Garden Development Co. in China. The company supplied 50 craftsmen and 11 stone artisans, who built five hand-carved stone bridges, paths and eight winged-roof pavilions.

Now, walking through the garden’s main entrance is like stepping back into 16th-century China. The beauty of the garden is reflected in its name, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance – Liu Fang Yuan, in Chinese – a reference to the scent of the many flowers and trees.

Names have an important place in Chinese art and literature. Selecting names for everything in the garden took more than a year for a panel of three experts on Chinese culture. Stonemasons who specialize in calligraphy etched all the names for the bridges, courtyard, lake, pond and pavilions.

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