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“...there are in Los Angeles a couple of rare and extraordinary
treasures in the history of Chinese culture. One is this garden...”
– Peter Sellars, Professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures
at the University of California, Los Angeles
Welcome to the Chinese Garden
Liu Fang Yuan, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, is one of the largest Chinese gardens
outside China. Designed to create, preserve, and promote the rich and complex traditions of Chinese
culture, this authentic garden is a special place for visitors to feel inspired by the elegant harmony
of nature and poetry. Thanks to visionary landscape architects and artisans from China and the
United States, inspired historians, expert gardeners, and generous benefactors, Liu Fang Yuan
reflects today an exceptional combination of learning and beauty.
About Liu Fang Yuan
Inspired by the centuries-old Chinese tradition of designing private gardens for scholarly pursuits, Liu Fang Yuan, or the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, combines the scenic beauty of nature with the expressiveness of the arts to give deeper meaning to the landscape. The creation of the garden began in 2000 and was truly a cross-cultural effort from start to finish. Architects from Suzhou, a Chinese city renowned worldwide for its ancient gardens, worked with Californian builders to produce a traditional Chinese landscape that, like the legacy of Henry E. Huntington, pairs the botanical, literature, and art. The result is an exquisitely designed garden. A walk through its paths enriches the mind and spirit alike.
True to Chinese garden tradition, the design respects the existing landscape of the site. Sheltering woods were left undisturbed to create a sylvan backdrop. A man-made lake shimmers in the same deep spot where water naturally collected on the Huntington property after heavy rains. Chinese architecture and rocks from China’s Lake Tai, placed around the water’s edge, balance native features such as California oaks. Respect for the site also extends to adapting some of the traditional elements of Chinese garden design to meet local seismic safety and wheelchair accessibility needs.
The garden’s name, Liu Fang Yuan, has both literal and symbolic meanings. The words “liu fang,” or flowing fragrance, refer to the scents of flowers and trees, including the pine, the lotus, the plum, and other native Chinese plants found here. The Chinese poet Cao Zhi (192–232) first used the words in his “Rhapsody on the Luo River Goddess” to describe how the fragrance of flowers trailed in the goddess’s wake as she walked among the scented flora. And liu fang echoes the name of famed Ming dynasty painter Li Liufang (1575–1629), known for his refined landscapes.
Layers of meaning like these add to the enjoyment of a Chinese garden’s beauty. As you explore Liu Fang Yuan, you’ll discover that there is much more to this scenic landscape than meets the eye.
Elements of the Garden
A Chinese garden is often compared to a work of art: It is like a scroll painting composed of carefully arranged scenes. As you stroll through the pathways and pavilions of Liu Fang Yuan, new vistas are revealed as if a scroll were being slowly unrolled. In the garden, as in a painting, several key elements play an important part in creating balance, meaning, and beauty in the composition.
Windows, bridges, and pavilions provide different views of the landscape and are also objects to be admired for their own beauty. Intricately crafted lattice windows artfully frame objects and scenes. Bridges with hand-carved textures lead to small islands that present striking new images of architectural structures. Pavilions ornamented with botanical images open onto exquisite panoramas. Important to all of these structures are Chinese cultural motifs. For instance, carvings of bamboo, pine, and plum blossoms adorn the ceiling of the “Pavilion of the Three Friends” near a grove where those three plants grow. In Chinese literature and art, these have often represented fortitude, high principles, and resilience, respectively, in part because they all flourish in the cold season. Additionally, the architecture of a Chinese garden invites both composed views, or views created by elements of the garden itself, and borrowed views, or views created by bringing surrounding scenery into the smaller space of the garden; in Liu Fang Yuan, the “Terrace that Invites the Mountains” integrates the San Gabriel Mountains into the scenery to create a unique and arresting borrowed view.
Water, Rocks, and Plants
Rocks, symbolizing the eternal, and water, symbolizing the ever-changing, create harmony in the garden, balancing nature’s yin and yang (or opposite but interconnected energies). Weathered limestone rocks from China’s Lake Tai line the water’s edge, evoking the craggy mountains of a Chinese landscape painting, while water adds a dynamic visual dimension to the garden by reflecting the changing moods of the light, clouds, and sky. Plants and flowers, too, serve a symbolic purpose in a Chinese garden, as well as a decorative one. Certain plants may represent the seasons (for instance, peach blossoms for spring or pine for winter), while others stand for attributes such as purity (the lotus) or uprightness (bamboo). While form and color appeal to the eye, other senses might be engaged by a fragrance wafting in the air, by the sound of water falling over stones, or by raindrops striking broad leaves.
Literature and the Arts
Many of China’s great garden-builders were wealthy merchants with scholarly interests, and their gardens were places where they pursued literary and artistic activities such as writing poetry, painting landscapes, and practicing calligraphy. Giving poetic names to gardens, and to various views within them, was also a favorite intellectual pursuit. That tradition continues in Liu Fang Yuan. Notice how the round gates in the “Terrace of the Jade Mirror” are shaped like the full moon; the name is inspired by Chinese literature, which often compares the moon to a round mirror of highly prized white jade. The “Love for the Lotus Pavilion” takes its name from an essay by the Chinese scholar Zhou Dunyi (1017–1073) in which he describes an admiration for the purity and simplicity of the lotus. The “Plantain Court” refers to the banana plant, often shown in paintings as the scholar’s companion.
Throughout Liu Fang Yuan, you’ll see poetic names and inscriptions of calligraphy accompanying a harmonic blend of architectural structures, water, rocks, and plants. Let the balance of this composition open your eyes to a new way of experiencing a walk through the garden.