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About Liu Fang Yuan
Inspired by the centuries-old Chinese tradition of private gardens designed for scholarly pursuits, Liu Fang Yuan, or the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, combines the scenic beauty of nature with the expressiveness of literature to give deeper meaning to the landscape. A walk through its paths enriches the mind and spirit alike. The Huntington—with its renowned collections of art, rare books, manuscripts, and plants—was founded on this same philosophy by Henry E. Huntington in 1919.
True to the authentic nature of a Chinese garden, the design respects 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, are balanced with 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 needs for seismic safety and wheelchair accessibility.
The garden’s name, Liu Fang Yuan, has both literal and symbolic meanings. The words liu fang, or “flowing fragrance,” refer to the scent of flowers and trees, including the pine, lotus, 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 and symbolism 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 beautiful landscape than meets the eye.
ELEMENTS OF A CHINESE GARDEN
A Chinese garden often is compared to a work of art: a scroll painting composed of carefully arranged scenes. As you stroll through its pathways and pavilions, 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 and harmony in the composition.
Pavilions, bridges, covered walkways, and windows are places from which to view the landscape, as well as objects to be admired for their own beauty. An intricately crafted lattice window may artfully frame an object or a scene. Bridges lead to small islands where pavilions on the opposite shore can be viewed in new ways from afar. Botanical motifs ornament many of the structures. Camellias are carved in the wood of the teahouse, the “Hall of the Jade Camellia,” to represent the plant’s importance as the source of tea leaves. 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 three plants came to represent unity in perseverance, courage, and endurance because they flourish in the cold season. The plum blossoms in early spring when snow is still on the ground, and pine and bamboo stay evergreen through the winter.
Water, Rocks, and Plants
Water (symbolizing the ever-changing) and rocks (the eternal) create harmony in the garden, balancing nature’s yin and yang. Weathered limestone rocks from Lake Tai line the water’s edge, evoking the craggy mountains of a Chinese landscape painting. Water creates an added 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 (peach blossoms for spring, pine for winter), while others stand for attributes such as purity (lotus) or uprightness (bamboo). While form and color appeal to the eye, other senses are engaged by a fragrance wafting in the air, the sound of water falling over stones, or 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 for literary and artistic activities such as poetry, painting, and calligraphy. Giving poetic names to gardens, and to various views within them, was 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 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) describing his admiration for the purity and simplicity of the lotus. Look out across the lake from the “Terrace that Invites the Mountains” and see how the distant San Gabriel Mountains have been welcomed into the garden to complete the scene.
Throughout Liu Fang Yuan you’ll see poetic names and inscribed calligraphy accompanying different scenic views. Let them open your eyes to a new way of experiencing the pleasures of a walk through the garden.