Photo: Peach Blossoms,  Peach trees bloom near the Jade Ribbon Bridge. © The Huntington.


Some 10 years in the making, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, or Liu Fang Yuan, is now open to the public,  at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.  A remarkable and ambitious undertaking for the Los Angeles–area institution, the garden reflects traditional Suzhoustyle scholar gardens and features a 1.5-acre lake, a complex of pavilions, a tea house and tea shop, and five stone bridges, set against a wooded backdrop of mature oaks and pines.  This initial phase of the garden covers about 3.5 acres of a planned 12-acre site. Development of future phases of the Chinese Garden will proceed over a period of years. 

As the opening approaches, the garden’s look and feel continues to evolve as several dozen Chinese artisans spend the summer and fall assembling the “cloud wall,” pavilions, and other structures. The garden’s formal name, Liu Fang Yuan, was announced in June 2007.

“It has been an absolutely amazing project, in every respect,” says Steven S. Koblik, president of The Huntington.   “From the challenges of creating authentic Chinese structures within the parameters of California’s seismic codes to the unprecedented international fundraising initiative it took to make this a reality, I’ve never before experienced anything quite like it. We are absolutely thrilled with the outcome.”

East West Bank was the sole corporate sponsor of the February 23 opening and of The Huntington’s Chinese New Year Festival, which took place on the same day.

The Chinese Garden opened temporarily for previewing in August 2006 after completion of the lake, bridges, and the placement of craggy stones from the Lake Tai region of China. It closed again in March 2007 so that construction could begin on the structures around the lake’s perimeter.

Two firms based in China have worked with The Huntington to provide authenticity to the project. The Suzhou Institute of Landscape Architectural Design, developed detailed construction plans, working from the initial conceptual drawings done by Jin Chen. Among the challenges faced by the architects was adapting traditional Chinese structures to meet U.S. regulations for seismic safety and wheelchair accessibility.

Fabrication and construction was provided by the Suzhou Garden Development Co., Ltd. The firm sent 11 stone artisans to The Huntington in 2006 to install the hand-carved bridges and to place the stones around the lake. Another 50 wood carvers, roof tile experts, stone pavers, and other specialists arrived in summer 2007 to work on the structures. Nearly all materials except structural steel and concrete have come from China, including highly sculptural “scholar rocks.”

Offenhauser Associates, of Burbank, Calif., is coordinating the architectural and engineering work; site preparation, structural work, and coordination of the Chinese artisans is being conducted by Valley Crest Landscape Development of Calabasas, Calif.

Photo: View of the Jade Ribbon Bridge and the Pavilion of the Three Friends. © The Huntington


With this project, the privately funded Huntington rallied new donors and philanthropists from throughout the country and the world. A $10-million bequest from Peter Paanakker, a Los Angeles businessman and philanthropist, and two $500,000 grants from the Starr Foundation of New York provided the initial funding that enabled The Huntington to take on the project in 2001. Half of the Paanakker gift has been applied toward construction and half has formed an endowment for ongoing support of the garden.

The first phase’s construction goal of approximately $18.3 million was reached in June, thanks to the generosity of donors that include East West Bank; Air China; the Wang Family: Vivine, Janice, Dorothy, and H. Roger Wang; Wallis Annenberg and the Annenberg Foundation; the James Irvine Foundation; the Avery-Tsui Foundation; COSCO—China Ocean Shipping (Group) Co.; the Beth and Wilbur Woo Family Foundation; and Ming and Fong Hsieh.

To date, more than 300 donors have made contributions, some 70 percent of whom are Chinese or Chinese American. Fundraising continues for the scholarly, educational, and public programs that will bring the garden to life.   “The degree to which we’ve been successful in this fundraising campaign is a real testament to the appeal and international scope of this garden,” says Koblik. “We feel enormously gratified by the degree to which the Chinese community both here and abroad has been involved. It has been an extremely enriching experience.”


“The design for Liu Fang Yuan captures the spirit of classical Chinese gardens by incorporating traditional elements, authentic materials, and scholarly associations,” says June Li, curator of the Chinese Garden. “This latter aspect, in particular, finds perfect expression in the context of The Huntington, where our mission is to advance research and education in the humanities and botanical sciences.”

Classical Chinese gardens are intimately linked to that country’s artistic and literary traditions. Imagery from nature is frequently found in Chinese paintings, poetry, music, and fiction, and the reverse is also true, with the cultural arts being incorporated into garden design, either literally or symbolically.

At The Huntington, with its renowned collections of art, literature, history, and horticulture, this comprehensive philosophy finds a natural parallel. In its existing gardens, references to Shakespeare and Greek mythology can be found, while paintings and tapestries in the art galleries often depict pastoral scenes.


As a showcase for an ancient and influential style of landscape architecture, the Chinese Garden will be a major addition to one of the most renowned botanical collections and cultural centers in the United States. The Huntington, which opened to the public in 1928, originally was the private estate of railroad and real estate magnate Henry Edwards Huntington. A collector of rare books, manuscripts, and art, Huntington also had a great interest in horticulture; and he began developing his botanical collections in 1904. Today there are more than a dozen specialized gardens on the 120-acre grounds, one of the largest of which is the 10-acre Japanese Garden, dating from 1912. The Chinese Garden will be the largest.

James Folsom, the Marge and Sherm Telleen Director of the Botanical Gardens at The Huntington, notes that Southern California’s historical links to China make it an appropriate location for establishing a Chinese garden. “The world’s heritage of cultivated plants and landscape design is heavily indebted to Chinese sensibilities. Southern California in particular is indebted to Chinese Americans and Chinese culture for the life and art they bring to the beautifully diverse world we are building together in this region.

To create a classical Chinese landscape here at The Huntington makes our gardens more complete. It expands their diversity to celebrate and explore the beauty and rich heritage so unique to China and its peoples.”

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution serving scholars and the general public. More information about the Huntington and the Chinese Garden can befound online at