Expansion of Huntington’s Chinese Garden

View from the Stargazing Tower, one of the new pavilions in the expanded section of the Chinese Garden. The Stargazing Tower offers sweeping views of the lake and garden below and of the “borrowed landscape” beyond, including the San Gabriel Mountains and Mount Wilson Observatory, which inspired the pavilion’s name. Photo: Aric Allen, © The Huntington

The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California, simply called “The Huntington” by its admirers, is one of my favorite gardens. I’ve been able to visit several times and always come away impressed. There is so much to see, you’ll certainly need two or more days, especially if you want to visit not only the gardens, but the museums as well. Among the gardens are the fabulous Desert Garden, said to contain the largest collection of cactus and succulents in the world, the Japanese Garden, the Jungle Garden, the Australian Garden and the Chinese Garden, but there are 11 others. And over 15,000 different varieties of plants.

Well, today a vastly expanded version of the already exceptional Chinese Garden finally opens to the public. Here’s the press release about it:

After a nearly five-month postponement caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens will open the outdoor areas of the highly anticipated expansion of its renowned Chinese Garden on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. Visitors will be treated to 11.5 new acres of landscape, pavilions, and other features in Liu Fang Yuan ???, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance. With this last phase of construction now complete, Liu Fang Yuan has expanded from its initial 3.5 acres to 15 acres, becoming one of the largest classical-style Chinese gardens in the world. The complex includes the 12 acres of the central garden, as well as an extensive bamboo grove on the garden’s western edge (to be completed in the next few months) and a conifer forest to the north.

Map of Chinese Garden, The Huntington
Map of the new garden. Ill.: © The Huntington

History of the Chinese Garden 

Lake of Reflected Fragrance, Chinese Garden, The Huntington
View of the Lake of Reflected Fragrance, showing some of the original features that opened in 2008 (l–r): the Pavilion of the Three Friends, the Jade Ribbon Bridge and the Hall of the Jade Camellia.  In the foreground is the Bridge of the Joy of Fish. Photo: Martha Benedict, © The Huntington

Inspired by the centuries-old Chinese tradition of private scholars’ gardens, Liu Fang Yuan (the Chinese Garden) made its debut in 2008 with eight pavilions linked by courtyards and walkways situated around a one-acre lake. In 2014, two new pavilions and a rock grotto were added. Groundbreaking on the garden’s final section began in August 2018. The following year, more than 50 Chinese artisans from the Suzhou Garden Development Co. spent six months at The Huntington carrying out specialized carpentry, masonry, and tile work for the traditional structures in the final phase. Their artisanship gives the garden its authenticity and beauty.

As with the earlier stages of the garden’s construction, this project has been an international partnership between Chinese and American architects, contractors, and craftspeople—all working together to ensure that the garden remains authentic to Chinese traditions of architecture and landscape design while meeting state and federal regulations for seismic safety and accessibility.

The total cost of this final phase of construction was approximately $24.6 million. This brings the combined total cost of the garden to about $54.6 million, all of which was raised from individual, corporate, and foundation gifts.

“We are delighted to be able to welcome visitors to explore these exquisite new features that further demonstrate the beauty and depth of Chinese cultural and landscape gardening traditions,” said Karen R. Lawrence, president of The Huntington. “The debut of these new sections of the Chinese Garden coincides with the conclusion of The Huntington’s yearlong Centennial Celebration, and symbolically opens a new chapter in the institution’s history.”

Gourd-shaped window, Chinese Garden, The Huntington
A gourd-shaped window frames a view and is an artful element in its own right. More than 50 artisans from Suzhou, China, provided the specialized carpentry, masonry and tile work that give the garden its authenticity and beauty. Photo: Aric Allen, © The Huntington

Indoor spaces within this expanded section of the Chinese Garden will open later. These include a new art gallery and a traditional scholar’s studio, as well as a casual restaurant. The inaugural exhibition in the art gallery, “A Garden of Words: The Calligraphy of Liu Fang Yuan,” is set to open in May 2021.

“The Chinese Garden has been more than two decades in the making, and the opening of this expanded section is the realization of the long-shared vision that countless individuals have worked toward: generous community donors, architects and designers from China and the United States, hardworking staff and volunteers, and many others,” said James Folsom, the Telleen/Jorgensen Director of the Botanical Gardens. “Together we have created a world-class attraction that not only celebrates historical landscape traditions but also embodies the contemporary ideals of international cooperation and cross-cultural exchange.”

Coast live oak, Chinese Garden, The Huntington
The design of the garden’s new features respects the existing landscape and safeguards mature trees like this coast live oak, Quercus agrifolia, estimated to be at least 300 years old. Photo: Aric Allen, © The Huntington

Timed entry tickets (purchased online in advance at are required for The Huntington as a whole, and visitors must comply with all mandated safety requirements, including a pre-entry symptom check, wearing face coverings and maintaining physical distancing while on the property.


The Stargazing Tower ??? – Situated on the highest point in the garden at the southern end of the lake, this beautiful 527-sq.-ft. pavilion provides stunning views of the landscape, the distant mountains, and (with a bit of imagination) the universe beyond. The name pays homage to the Mount Wilson Observatory—visible from the tower—and to the work of astronomer Edwin Hubble. Hubble’s papers are part of the Library’s holdings in the history of science.

The Pavilion of Myriad Scenes, Chinese Garden, The Huntington
The Pavilion of Myriad Scenes, one of the architectural features within the Verdant Microcosm, the garden’s new penjing complex. Photo: Aric Allen, © The Huntington

The Verdant Microcosm ??? – This 17,900-sq.-ft. area on the western slope of the garden is designed for the study, creation, and display of penjing ?? (miniature potted landscapes, similar to Japanese bonsai). A complex of walled courtyards showcases dozens of examples of the penjing art form, as well as distinctive scholar’s rocks.

Reflections in the Stream and Fragrance of Orchids Pavilion ???? – Shaded by mature California oaks near a gently flowing stream, this delicate 308-sq.-ft. pavilion is a place to pause, meditate, and be poetically inspired. The name recalls the legendary gathering of poets at the Orchid Pavilion in Shaoxing in 353, immortalized by the great calligrapher Wang Xizhi ??? (ca. 303–361), who wrote the preface to the collected poems.

The Courtyard of Assembled Worthies, Chinese Garden, The Huntington
The Courtyard of Assembled Worthies in the expanded northern section of the garden, with the Flowery Brush Library at left. Photo: Aric Allen, © The Huntington

Courtyard of Assembled Worthies ??? – Paved with intricate pebble mosaics, this expansive courtyard links the exciting Clear and Transcendent Pavilion on the north side of the lake—a frequent site of concerts and performances—with the new exhibition complex. Together, these features will serve as a center for future cultural programming.

INDOOR SPACES TO OPEN AT A LATER DATE: The art gallery, Studio for Lodging the Mind ???, is a 1,720-sq.-ft. climate- and light-controlled building at the northern end of the garden that will showcase changing exhibitions of Chinese artworks, both contemporary and historical. The gallery’s inaugural exhibition will feature Chinese calligraphy. Adjacent to the gallery is the Flowery Brush Library ????, a hall designed in the style of a scholar’s studio—a garden retreat traditionally used to create paintings and calligraphy. Also in this north section is a new casual restaurant with outdoor seating, known as the Pavilion Encircled by Jade ???. And a large open space overlooking the lake, the Terrace of Shared Delights ???, will be used for banquets, festivals, and other gatherings.

The Flowery Brush Library, Chinese Garden, The Huntington
The Flowery Brush Library, one of the new structures in the expanded section of the Chinese Garden. The pavilion was designed in the style of a scholar’s studio—a garden retreat traditionally used for painting and calligraphy. Photo: Aric Allen, © The Huntington

“One of our primary goals in building Liu Fang Yuan was to make Chinese gardening traditions—including landscape design, architecture, art, and poetry—accessible to a wide audience of both Chinese and non-Chinese visitors,” said Phillip E. Bloom, the June and Simon K. C. Li Curator of the Chinese Garden and Director of the Center for East Asian Garden Studies. “The penjing complex, for example, provides a window into a centuries-old horticultural art form, and the new art gallery will anchor an exhibition and performance complex for which we are planning a robust slate of public programs, lectures, concerts, academic symposia, school programs, and other cultural offerings.”

So, the next time you’re in the Los Angeles, California area, you’ll know where to go!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

1 comment on “Expansion of Huntington’s Chinese Garden

  1. The redwoods there, mostly around the perimeter, are some of the only big redwoods in the region. Most of the others are also in big spaces such as this. (Some of my favorites, which can be seen in the background at the beginning of the Andy Griffith Show, are in Franklin Canyon Park.) These big redwoods were likely planted before anyone knew or cared that they are not happy with the local climate.

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