In early May, I was fortunate to get invited by the Huntington Botanical Garden to give a talk about Classical Chinese Gardens in Suzhou. While over there, I went back to visit the Classical Chinese Garden on site, Liu Fang Yuan (流芳园) The Garden of Flowing Fragrance.
Befitting the prestigious status of Huntington, this newly constructed (2008) Chinese garden is clearly aiming to be the best of its kind outside China. It is nested on twelve acres of oak-studded rolling hills with views of the San Gabriel Mountains. The location and topography alone will be the envy of even the best of Suzhou gardens, since it is mostly flat over there even though traditional Chinese garden design vastly prefers naturally sloping sites with distant views to borrow.
The hardscapes(buildings, pavements, rocks) are very authentic since most of them were sourced from China and were constructed by Suzhou craftsmen using traditional techniques. The contrast between the white walls and the black roofs are most magical when it is rainy and cloudy. However, they still look quite good under our extra strong California sunshine.
A number of bridges are built to connect several islands in the main pond. These islands and bridges help to divide up the big lake for more visual depth and interest. With age, the white granite will darken and show less contrast. The main bridge with three holes is larger than most if not all garden bridges in Suzhou, and I wish the guard rail panels could have wider openings to reduce the visual weight, but it is governed by U.S. building code so maybe some climbing vines can be trained to grow on the side walls as a remedy.
Most of the plants used in this garden are traditional plants in Suzhou gardens such as the Three Friends of Winter (Pine, Mei Hua, Bamboo), hardy bananas, Camellias, and Azaleas. I was lucky to see some of the last blooms on a few tree peonies.
One shrub that is beyond the traditional palette is Pittosporum brevicalyx ‘Golden Temple’ shown on left below. With Huntington’s prowess, I think more Chinese exotics can be strategically incorporated into this garden. Many of these newly introduced Chinese plants would surely have made their way into the original Suzhou gardens had they been available. Examples are Cycas debaoensis and Radermachera Kunming. Some newly introduced Chinese plants are already in Huntington’s possession, such as this anemic Fatsia polycarpa in the big on-site nursery shown on right below. This elegant beauty from Taiwan is begging to be planted out and take on the star role in a sheltered corner inside the Chinese garden.