• Jill

A Tour of the Chinese Garden at the Huntington Library


It’s a New Day! I’m trying something new to make sure that those of you who want to receive my blog posts can consistently do so. I had trouble with my previous platform, so let’s see how it goes! (Thanks to my fabulous husband for helping me out with this!)

And now…for a moment of Zen.

I recently visited the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, one of my favorite spots here in California. My friend and I enjoyed the sun outside (all indoor venues were closed) and just wandered around the gardens with our masks on for an hour or so. It was so lovely to pretend like things were almost back to normal. However, while we had to pretend that things were normal, I think for the gardens, things really were! The roses were blooming, the trees flowering, new shoots appearing on the bonsai trees, -- in all, the garden was just as gorgeous as it has always been.

But there was one part of the garden that was, in fact, more gorgeous than it has ever been. The Chinese Garden. Let me explain.

The Chinese Garden was developed at the Huntington in 2008, with additional gardens added in 2014. It is one of the largest Chinese style gardens outside of China. It is not, however, just a beautiful garden. It is a work of art. It is poetry. The variety of extraordinary vistas, the opportunities for quiet reflection, the sheer attention to authentic detail soothes the soul, and humbles the viewer. It makes one feel fortunate to be able commune with such brilliance, both natural and man made.

There are two reasons why the Chinese Garden is more gorgeous than it has ever been – and that’s saying a lot! Here they are:

1) The Chinese Garden, formally called Liu Fang Yuan, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, is expanding again. The expansion will increase the footprint from 3.5 acres, to 12 acres, making it one of the largest classical-style Chinese gardens in the world. It will include features such as the Stargazing Tower, the Flowering Bush Library, the Pavilion Encircled by Jade, and Reflections in the Stream and Fragrance of Orchids Pavilion. Just the names of the new features are calming to the psyche.

On our recent visit, we were able to see some of the final construction being completed, and some of the landscaping being installed. It was thrilling to know that this beautiful place would become even more beautiful, and that soon we could be visitors to this delight. But more than that, approximately fifty Chinese artisans having been working diligently to create this wonder. And there is something about seeing work produced by the hands of people who take pride in their work and art, who have complete devotion to detail, and whose product reflects not just hard labor, but the character and work ethic of the human heart. The Chinese Garden will be a masterpiece when it opens this fall. It will be a master piece, not just because it is beautiful to see, but because it reflects all that is good in us as a civilization. We need that reminder right now.

2) The second reason that the Chinese Garden was more beautiful than it has ever been, is because…the water lilies! I had never seen anything like this before, though I had visited the Chinese Garden many times. I was literally stunned when I walked towards the Lake of Reflected Fragrance and saw those beautiful water lilies. I did not preview my tour before I began, I just walked through the gardens, and narrated for you as I walked. So when you hear the surprise in my voice, it is genuine. I really could not believe what I was seeing. I told my friend, that even though the day had been lovely, the highlight was going to be the water lilies. And I was right.

The first set of blooms that I saw were tropical water lilies. I’m no expert about water lilies, but I did a little research because they looked so unusual. The blooms on the tropical lilies, at least 7 – 8 inches across, were perched atop long clean stems, and the lily pads were twice that size. The actual lily plants that floated on the water were perhaps more than 10 feet across.

The second set of water lilies that appear at the end of the segment, floated atop the water, as one has come to expect of water lilies. They were a beautiful fuschia color, and stood out against the deep colored water and blue sky that day.

The combined work of man and nature in the Chinese Garden transported us to a reflective calm, and allowed the worries of the day to drift away, though for all too short a time.

A garden like this makes life more beautiful, more bearable, more divine. I wish for you a Chinese garden visit in your future, even if virtual. It will do your soul good.

(N.B. The final segment has poor sound quality because of the waterfall in the background. We tried to filter out the noise, but the noise is part of the experience! I hope you hear it well enough to enjoy.)

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