Friday, March 4, 2011

Seattle Chinese Garden - a work in progress

The windswept 'Knowing the Spring' courtyard.
Newest of Seattle's many public gardens, the Seattle Chinese Garden was opened a couple of weeks ago to a great publicity. Admittedly still long from being finished, it has already been lauded as a breathtaking garden, "soon to be one of the most unique gardens and cultural centers in the country." Having recently fallen in love with the Classical Chinese Scholar's Garden in Vancouver, I unfortunately must admit that none of the warm, fuzzy feelings from the Vancouver visit filled my breast while I wandered in this fledgling of a garden, despite determinately keeping in mind that most of it still awaits completion.
Tai Hu river rocks arranged in a corner of the 'Knowing the spring' courtyard; these water-carved rocks were very popular in classical Chinese gardens, their forms inviting for different interpretation depending on the changing light during the day.
Wondering where my disappointment had its source, I came up with some thoughts. The site of the garden on the top of a windy, clear-felled hill, felt too exposed to the elements, both cold and warm. Despite all assurances of it being 'especially auspicious" in the provided garden leaflet, there was none of the magical feeling of popping in to a secret garden from the bustle of a city, which I felt in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen garden of Vancouver. The 'Knowing the Spring' courtyard felt way too big and harsh as a space; there was nothing left unseen, no surprises unfolding behind corners, as there were no such around; this feeling was increased by the extensive paving made of harsh concrete, instead of the intricately hand-cut river stones often used in China (and in Vancouver, see pictures of the beautiful work there in my post of it). All walls and walkways were strictly straight, not bent and curved to fend off evil spirits like in Vancouver, which added further to the severe feeling of the building. A small water feature with jade-colored river stones was placed in one corner, but at least yet nothing could mirror itself on its surface.
Leak windows, also made of concrete, offering framed views in and out of the courtyard.
The Seattle Chinese Garden has been long in making, and it has a very ambitious plan; its goal is to be the largest, Sichuan-style Chinese garden outside China. When finished, the gardens will stretch over 5 acres of land, with lakes, bridges, pagodas, a banquet hall and a 70-foot tower overlooking the city. Despite the grand opening, only 0.5 acres of this has been carried out, and enormous resources are still needed before it will be finished. Luckily, being an important cultural symbol for the large Chinese community in Seattle and Washington state, there is a great commitment for completing the gardens.
Song Mei pavilion, the only finished feature in the large area that surrounds the courtyard building. The land is still filled with rubble and stones and the only greenery provided by large bamboos.
Strolling through the site, I appreciated the work that so many volunteers and enthusiasts had put into this garden during the many years the garden has been in making, but quietly couldn't help wondering why the plans had to be so grand and ambitious. When it comes to gardens, size never really matters, so wouldn't it had been better to make a smaller one, a little diamond that could instill the essence of a Sichuan-style Chinese garden, and get it done with lesser resources and time? As it is now, it will take several more years before this garden will be completed. Still, despite all my complaints above, I will be following its development with great interest and will be happy to see it evolve into what it was planned to be.
* The future garden will contain lakes, pavilions and several bridges, but it is still mostly filled with rubble and gravel.*


Chen said...

When I came across your blog on the Vancouver Chinese garden recently, I was really impressed by the beautiful compositions of your photography that truly captured the essence of a Chinese garden, and by the depth of your interpretation. I was there once, but I failed to see much of the beauty partly because the place was packed with tourists.
This is another interesting and thoughtful post that is so enjoable; hope you will update their progress as in the near future.

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Thank you, Chen! When a garden touches one's feelings, it really shows in the post, too. I really loved the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen garden in Vancouver. We'll see how Seattle's Chinese garden develops, the expectations are great...

Liz Hattemer said...

Great insight and interesting comments - a Sichuan-style garden is very different than what you see in Vancouver and Portland, both "city" gardens. Developing a country garden on 5 acres is a big challenge that's for sure. Make sure to come to the dedication ceremony and open house on May 15th! Love your pictures. Check out our blog!

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Hi Lizzie, I will try to make it. It will be so interesting to see this garden evolve, and I am so impressed by the dedication and work that has been put into it. Thanks for your comment, Liisa.