The Chinese Garden Expands at The Huntington

The Huntington unveils the final stage of its important Chinese Garden project.
Published on Oct 3, 2020

The opening was delayed by Covid restrictions, but now the Chinese Garden at The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens is finally unveiling the rest of its expanse on Friday, Oct. 9. The new sections add 11.5 acres to the existing 3.5 acres for a total of 15, making Liu Fang Yuan (or Garden of Flowing Fragrance) one of the world’s largest classical-style Chinese gardens.

The $54.6 million project drew on the talents of designers and artisans from both the U.S. and China. The completion of the garden after two decades, as Huntington President Karen R. Lawrence said during a Friday press conference, “culminates the 100th year anniversary of The Huntington.”

View of the Lake of Reflected Fragrance, showing some of the original features that opened in 2008 (l-r): the Pavilion of the Three Friends, the Jade Ribbon Bridge and the Hall of the Jade Camellia. In the foreground is the Bridge of the Joy of Fish. Photo by Martha Benedict. The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens.

Liu Fang Yuan is in the Suzhou style, modeled after scholars’ gardens popular among the literati during the 16th- and 17th-century Ming dynasty, with wending walkways paved with mosaic stone, pavilions with whitewashed walls and dark-gray tiled roofs, plantings and penjing, which are miniaturized trees cultivated in trays, similar to the better-known Japanese bonsai.

The first stage of the garden opened in 2008, and the second stage in 2014. The final stage–this one–reveals several new buildings. Three are in the north end of the garden, although they will be closed until restrictions lift. That includes a new art gallery, a restaurant and a traditional scholar’s studio, with a display of classical-Chinese-style furnishings, including a chair and desks, where a scholar might practice calligraphy and landscape painting. The first exhibition in the art gallery will be A Garden of Words: The Calligraphy of Liu Fang Yuan, set to open in May 2021.

A gourd-shaped window frames a view and is an artful element in its own right. More than 50 artisans from Suzhou, China, provided the specialized carpentry, masonry and tile work that give the garden its authenticity and beauty. Photo by Aric Allen. The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens.

Elsewhere will be the Stargazing Tower, where one can stare out at the distant Mt. Wilson Observatory, recently spared by the fires. Don’t miss the penjing garden, or the Verdant Microcosm, with its own pavilion and several dozen penjing dotting the area. These small Chinese elm, juniper and olive trees are pure poetry against the whitewashed walls or seen through a window embedded in them.

Jim Folsom, director of the Botanical Gardens, believes the Chinese scholar’s garden represents the Huntington Gardens’ values–“a love of the natural world and a desire to better interpret and create from our understanding of the natural world.”

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