On Thursday, August 1, around 100 San Marino Rotarians and guests were treated to a sneak peek tour of the final expansion phase currently underway in the Chinese Garden, known by the poetic name Liu Fang Yuan, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. The expansion will transform Li Fang Yuan into one of the largest classical-style Chinese Gardens in the world. The gardens have and will remain open throughout the construction, which is expected to wrap up in February 2020.
Jim Folsom, the Marge and Sherm Telleen/Marion and Earle Jorgensen Director of the Botanical Gardens, gathered with tour members in the North Pavilion, which was exclusively held open for the group. He shared insights into the construction of stonework, flooring, roofing and walls currently ongoing north of the garden.
One of the key elements of the final phase is an exhibition complex, the Flowery Brush Library, comprising of a traditional scholar’s studio and an art gallery with changing displays. It will feature cultural programs, demonstrations and displays of Chinese Art. There will also be a new larger café, Pavilion Encircled by Jade, with outdoor seating, with the existing smaller café repurposed to provide drinks and light bites, along with a stream-side corridor, Reflections in the Stream and Fragrance of Orchids Pavilion, to take in the scenic views.
Folsom estimated that the total cost of the garden is about $60 million, all of which has been raised from individual, corporate and foundation gifts. The Huntington still has around $1 million to raise for its completion without borrowing from the endowment fund which is set to maintain the garden once completed. The total cost of this final phase is approximately $23 million.
The tour group took in the sights and sounds of Chinese craftsmen from Suzhou focusing on different parts of the construction. By the end of November, the Suzhou team is expected to return to China and the decorative buildings will be finished. An additional two to three months are expected to wrap up the work.
At the lake’s southern end, there are plans for a hillside pavilion, Star Gazing Tower, on the highest point of the garden with a view of the Mount Wilson Observatory in the distance. To the west, there will be the Terrance of Shared Delights, an event space for larger gatherings that will overlook the lake. Additional plans call for the Verdant Microcosm, a courtyard area for the study, creation and display of penjing (miniature landscapes similar to Japanese bonsai) with numerous acres of new garden spaces with winding pathways.
“This garden will be much deeper and much more expansive with a lot of new spaces when it opens in about eight months,” said Folsom.
The history of the Chinese Gardens goes back 25 years, when the first plan for the Chinese Garden was introduced to the board of trustees. In the spirit of the ancient Chinese tradition of private scholars’ gardens, Liu Fang Yuan opened in 2008 with eight tile-roofed pavilions surrounding a one-acre lake. In 2014, two additional pavilions and a rock grotto with waterfall were added.
“During that entire time, we have had ongoing contracts, work and friendship relationships with our friends from Suzhou,” said Folsom. “They have done all the design and all of the installation and all of the creation.”
Folsom estimated that several thousands of people have been involved to date in the construction process, which is currently the largest project in the city of San Marino. By the end, the footprint of the garden will double to more than 15 acres.
The construction process is truly a team effort. The Huntington’s American team builds the structures’ internal framework of custom steel with earthquake capacity on-site while the Suzhou team constructs the rest of the buildings in China. The Suzhou team then comes to The Huntington to install their buildings around the framework, utilizing the same skills that were present in China, according to Folsom. Essentially, the structures are built twice.
“It’s a fascinating process and you can see all those stages,” Folsom told the group from the pavilion.
Rotarian Gilbert Mares called the construction “very impressive” and has enjoyed seeing the development of The Huntington with his four decades as a San Marino resident.
“I think it’s going to make it even more international because it’ll attract a lot more people from other countries that ordinarily might not have come,” said Mares.
Rotarian Laureen Chang, with more than three decades as a San Marino resident, said the work was “beautifully done.” She previously visited the original gardens in Suzhou and said the construction honored it well.
“It’s an amazing amount of work that’s going to add so much value and really speak to the Asian community and the local community as well, because there is a need for it in the San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles,” said Chang.
In the future, Folsom said The Huntington plans to install a 320-year-old Japanese Magistrate’s House in the fall of 2020 or early 2021, rebuild the entrance to the Desert Garden in a year and a half and there is also a long-term hope for a Korean Garden.