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California Library Recreates Chinese Gardens


Workers are putting the finishing touches on a traditional Chinese garden that will open at the Huntington Library in Los Angeles early next year. Mike O'Sullivan reports, the complex is modeled on gardens in the Chinese city of Suzhou, and was built with the help of 50 Suzhou craftsmen.

Known as the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, it is set on an artificial lake, with eight pavilions and five stone bridges.

The complex will feature a teahouse and teashop, and cover nearly 1.5 hectares. Eventually, as it expands, it will more than triple in size.

Traditional artisans and a California landscape company worked on the garden.

Carpenter Xu Ji Fan, like the other Chinese craftsmen, comes from the famous garden city of Suzhou.

He says Suzhou is known for its carvings and silk embroidery, as well as its classical gardens.

Xie Yizhong is a senior engineer with the China Suzhou Garden Development Company, which prepared the ornate tiles, carvings, and stonework. They were made by hand in China and assembled in California over a six-month period.

He says he and his craftsmen are happy to bring traditional Chinese culture to America.

Visitors will stroll through covered walkways as they contemplate a scene like one enjoyed long ago by Confucian scholar-officials.

Chinese gardens recreate natural scenes and blend them with Chinese art and architecture.

Such gardens were places to contemplate Chinese poetry, and the Huntington's Laurie Sowd says visitors will learn more of China's history and culture each time they visit.

"You will see as you go through many calligraphy panels, for example, each of which was painted by a different calligrapher and hand-carved by our Suzhou colleagues, and each of which names either a pavilion or a view," she said. "It makes reference to a historic poetic allusion."

The Huntington Library is known for its Western art, historic books and scenic gardens, and president Steve Koblik says the new garden will open a window on one of the world's great cultures.

"This is the kind of a place where you can learn about Chinese culture in multi-faceted ways. It is a very quick, short-hand route into being introduced into what is one of the world's most important cultures, and obviously [one that is] going to be a major partner for the United States in the 21st century," he noted.

The Garden of Flowing Fragrance will open to the public February 23, just after the Chinese New Year.

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