On The Garden Path

Missouri garden offers a look at traditional Chinese garden

| November 2006

There is a traditional saying that Chinese gardens are built, not planted. These types of gardens are filled with mosaic pavement, pavilions, bridges and benches. The Margaret Grigg Nanjing Friendship Garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden reflects this philosophy faithfully, yet within its walls, there also lie lush, beautiful flowers, plants and foliage.

The garden's origins began as a way to honor the sister-city relationship established between St. Louis and Nanjing in 1979. Chinese-American architect Yong Pan designed the garden, which was dedicated in 1996. The city of Nanjing donated many of the unique features in the garden.

Traditionally, Chinese gardens follow two distinctive styles - those of the north, with gilded roofs and accents of brilliant red, and those of the southern provinces, which favor a monochromatic scheme of grays, white and black. The Nanjing garden was created to reflect the southern style. However, since the St. Louis climate more closely resembles the northern provinces, many plant species are hardy, southern perennials. Tender ornamentals are displayed in containers and moved inside during winter months.

True Chinese gardens use plants sparingly. Each one is selected for its symbolic meaning. Bamboo represents a strong, resilient character; chrysanthemums represent splendor; and narcissus symbolizes the process of regeneration.

The Nanjing garden is also thought of as a 'scholar's garden,' designed to provide a retreat from the distractions of the day.

Entry to the garden is through what is called the 'moon gate.' The circular shape symbolizes the idea of perfection. The walkway into the garden is paved with colorful mosaics, one of which features a phoenix, in honor of the empress.

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