chinese garden with trees, bridge and lake

Chinese Garden

Liu Fang Yuan 流芳園, or the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, is one of the finest classical-style Chinese gardens outside of China. Filled with Chinese plants and framed by exquisite architecture, the landscape is enriched with references to literature and art. Visitors can find both physical relaxation and mental stimulation when exploring the dramatic 15-acre garden.

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The Huntington's Chinese Garden

Inspired by the Gardens of Suzhou

Liu Fang Yuan is inspired by the gardens of Suzhou, a city located near Shanghai in southeastern China. During the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), wealthy scholars and merchants there built tasteful private gardens combining architecture, waterworks, rockeries, plants, and calligraphy. Many of the features in Liu Fang Yuan are modeled on specific Suzhou gardens, eight of which are depicted in the woodcarvings in the Love for the Lotus Pavilion (Ai Lian Xie 愛蓮榭).

Landscape and Design

Principles of landscape design formulated in Suzhou in the 16th and 17th centuries deeply inform Liu Fang Yuan. Most importantly, the garden has been designed to respect its natural locale. The Lake of Reflected Fragrance (Ying Fang Hu 映芳湖) shimmers in the same natural basin where water once collected after seasonal rains. The Court of Assembled Worthies (Ji Xian Yuan 集賢院) is raised above ground level to protect the roots of native California live oaks. Each step through the garden’s pathways and pavilions reveals a new view as if a painted scroll were being unrolled scene by scene.

Flora for the Seasons

Suzhou-style gardens are filled with plants of literary or cultural significance. Certain flora represent the seasons (peach blossoms for spring, chrysanthemums for autumn); others stand for human qualities such as purity (lotus) or humility (orchid). Carvings of bamboo, pine, and plum blossoms adorn the ceiling of the Pavilion of the Three Friends (San You Ge 三友閣). These “three friends of the cold season” represent perseverance through difficult times: Pine is evergreen, bamboo never breaks, and plum trees flower in winter when most plants are dormant.

Unusual Rocks with Energy

Rocks are an essential feature of Suzhou gardens. The stones found throughout Liu Fang Yuan are a type of limestone traditionally harvested from the bed of Lake Tai near Suzhou; today, they are quarried in various regions of China. For more than 1,200 years, these rocks have been renowned for their strange shapes and many holes. Particularly prized individual specimens, like the towering stone near the teahouse, Patching Up the Sky (Bu Tian 補天), were seen as embodying energy-like ethers, or qi.

Garden Names and Poetry

Like all Suzhou-style gardens, Liu Fang Yuan is filled with text. Every pavilion and courtyard bears a name in Chinese characters; the entrances to some buildings are also adorned with poetic couplets. These calligraphic inscriptions were written by more than 30 contemporary artists from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The names and couplets that they have inscribed are drawn from classic works of Chinese literature.

Construction Collaboration

The pavilions, paths, and rockeries in Liu Fang Yuan are the product of years of international collaboration. In the early 2000s, a master plan for the garden was developed by designers in Suzhou; American architects ensured that it would be seismically sound and wheelchair accessible. All of the garden’s visible building materials—wood beams, roofing tiles, granite terraces, paving pebbles—were sourced in China and installed by teams of Suzhou artisans. Beneath their fine handwork lie concrete foundations and steel frameworks created by American construction workers.

Programming

Suzhou gardens were never static spaces, and neither is Liu Fang Yuan. Soloist musicians offer recitals in the garden each Wednesday. Chinese opera troupes periodically perform excerpts from beloved works of theater. Monthly lectures provide background on East Asian garden history. Exhibitions in the Studio for Lodging the Mind (Yu Yi Zhai 寓意齋) explore Chinese art and garden culture. And an artist-in-residence program ensures that Liu Fang Yuan constantly inspires new works of music, drama, and art. These programs and more are coordinated through The Huntington's Center for East Asian Garden Studies, promoting innovative scholarship on the traditions of garden-making in China, Japan, and Korea.

Flowery Brush Library

The Flowery Brush Library and the Courtyard of Assembled Worthies. Photo by Beth Coller. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

World in a Wine Pot

World in a Wine Pot, one of the architectural features within the Verdant Microcosm, the garden's new penjing complex. The Chinese art of penjing is similar to Japanese bonsai. Photo by Beth Coller. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Cloudy Forest Court

The Cloudy Forest Court, one of the architectural features within the Verdant Microcosm, the garden's new penjing complex for the display of miniature trees. Photo by Beth Coller. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Cloud Wall

A "Cloud Wall" with a whimsically shaped doorway in the Cloudy Forest Court, one of the architectural features within the Verdant Microcosm, the garden's new penjing complex for the display of miniature trees. Photo by Beth Coller. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Stargazing Tower

The Stargazing Tower, one of the new pavilions in the expanded section of the Chinese Garden. The Stargazing Tower offers sweeping views of the lake and garden below and of the "borrowed landscape" beyond, including the San Gabriel Mountains and Mount Wilson Observatory, which inspired the pavilion's name. Photo by Beth Coller. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Stargazing Tower

The Stargazing Tower, one of the new pavilions in the expanded section of the Chinese Garden. The Stargazing Tower offers sweeping views of the lake and garden below and of the "borrowed landscape" beyond, including the San Gabriel Mountains and Mount Wilson Observatory, which inspired the pavilion's name. Photo by Beth Coller. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Stargazing Tower

A different view from the Stargazing Tower, one of the new pavilions in the expanded section of the Chinese Garden. The pavilion's name is inspired by the Mount Wilson Observatory, visible in the distance. Photo by Aric Allen. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Oak tree

Mature oaks frame a view of the Courtyard of Assembled Worthies and the Flowery Brush Library, two of the new features in the expanded Chinese Garden. Photo by Aric Allen. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Gourd-shaped window

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.

Coast live Oak

The design of the garden's new features respects the existing landscape and safeguards mature trees like this coast live oak, Quercus agrifolia, estimated to be at least 300 years old. Photo by Aric Allen. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Hand-crafted window

Hand-crafted windows are like small works of art—an example of the traditional craftmanship of artisans from Suzhou, China, whose work gives the garden its authenticity and beauty. Photo by Aric Allen. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Studio for Lodging the Mind

The Studio for Lodging the Mind (art gallery, left) and the Pavilion Encircled by Jade (café, background); both of these new structures are scheduled to open in 2021. Photo by Aric Allen. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Lake of Reflected Fragrance

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.

Love for the Lotus Pavilion

One of the original features that opened in 2008: the Love for the Lotus Pavilion. Photo by Martha Benedict. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Chinese Garden Tour

hand holding mobile phone with QR code

Take a guided audio tour of Liu Fang Yuan 流芳園, or the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, with your phone. Download the The Huntington Digital Guide now. English | 語音導覽

The Flora of Liu Fang Yuan 流芳園

apricot tree bloom

The Huntington’s Chinese Garden is filled with ornamental plants from Suzhou and hearty California natives.

The Architecture of Liu Fang Yuan 流芳園

chinese pavilion

Liu Fang Yuan features a variety of different types of buildings—imposing halls, whimsical pavilions, thatched huts, and more.

The Paving Patterns of Liu Fang Yuan 流芳園

paving stone pattern

Liu Fang Yuan features 12 different paving patterns created from clay tile, shards of limestone, and river rocks of various colors.

The Writings of Liu Fang Yuan 流芳園

chinese pavilion with chinese characters

Literature fills The Huntington’s Chinese Garden. Among its corridors and courtyards, inscriptions in Chinese calligraphy are everywhere.

The Calligraphy of Liu Fang Yuan

paintbrush drawing calligraphy

Learn about the artful brush writings found throughout the Chinese Garden.