The Garden of Flowing Fragrance, Liu Fang Yuan 流芳園, is one of the largest Chinese-style gardens outside China. Designed to promote the rich traditions of Chinese culture, the garden is truly a cross-cultural effort. Architects and artisans from Suzhou, the renowned garden city of southern China, worked alongside California builders and gardeners. As a result, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance combines the botanical with the artistic and scholarly, in the tradition of Henry Huntington.
Strange Creature by Nina Katchadourian is a koi-shaped sculpture installed in the Chinese Garden lake. The work was created for Beside the Edge of the World and inspired by The Huntington’s collection of 16th- and 17th-century maps and books, as well as the Red Ru-Fish, a carp with a human face from the ancient Chinese mythological text Shan Hai Jing (Guideways through Mountains and Seas.) On view through Feb. 24.
About Liu Fang Yuan
“Flowing fragrance” (liu fang 流芳) refers to the scents of the flowers and trees throughout the year as the seasons turn. The Chinese poet Cao Zhi 曹植 (192-232) first used the phrase in his “Rhapsody on the Luo River Goddess” (“Luo shen fu” 洛神賦) to describe how the fragrance of the flowers trailed in the goddess’s wake. The name also serves to echo that of the Ming dynasty painter Li Liufang 李流芳 (1575-1629), one of the late masters of landscape painting.
In the garden, Chinese architecture and rocks from Lake Tai, placed around the water’s edge, balance native features such as the Californian oaks. Sheltering woods were left undisturbed and a man-made lake stands in the same deep spot where once water naturally collected after heavy rains.
A Chinese garden, it is said, is like a scroll painting, presenting a series of carefully composed scenes. New vistas are revealed as one strolls along the pathways, with a number of key elements combining to create a sense of harmony and of beauty.
Architectural features both compose views and become an aspect of those views. Intricate lattice and shaped doorways frame various scenes and generate anticipation as the garden is slowly revealed. Visitors stroll down patterned pathways and across bridges with hand carved decoration. Carvings of bamboo, pine, and plum, symbols of fortitude, integrity, and resilience, adorn the ceiling of the “Pavilion of the Three Friends” (San You Ge 三友閣) near a grove where all three of these plants grow.
Water, Rocks, and Plants
A flower is never just a flower; all plants in a Chinese garden mark the shift of the seasons and represent a particular moral property. Similarly, water, symbolizing the ever-changing, and rocks, symbolizing the eternal, create a harmonious balance of nature’s yin and yang. Weathered limestone rocks from China’s Lake Tai line the water’s edge capturing the majesty of the mountains and rivers of China, while the surface of the lake reflects shifting patterns of skies overhead.
The private gardens of China were where culture was both created and enjoyed. A garden’s features were considered incomplete without, in the words of the great eighteenth-century Chinese novel The Dream of the Red Chamber (Honglou meng 紅樓夢), “…that touch of poetry which only the written word can lend a scene.”
Throughout the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, the names of features and the couplets that grace these features, all labeled by contemporary calligraphers, conjure up the literary, philosophic, and artistic traditions of China, and encourage us to experience the world around us in new ways.