Enchanting. Extraordinary. Entrancing.
Really, there aren’t enough superlatives to describe the $25-million completion of the magnificent Liu Fang Yuan — the Garden of Flowing Fragrance — at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. But that’s probably for the best, since a description with too many embellishments would go against the core aesthetic of the now 15-acre space commonly known as the Chinese Garden, which finally opens to the public on Friday.
The newly completed garden should have opened in May, with great fanfare and many public events, but the COVID-19 pandemic ended those plans and forced the closure of the institution for several months. In this respect, the pandemic has been a bit of a gift: It gave the landscapers more time to complete plantings, and now that the Huntington has reopened, with social distancing rules limiting daily attendance, visitors will be able to experience the Chinese Garden without the usual crowds.
That’s a lucky thing, because the garden is a meditative spot, with something to inspire or delight at every step — turtles posing in the Lake of Reflected Fragrance, near the weaving Bridge of the Joy of Fish; the intricate pebble mosaics on the walkways and courtyards; the huge contorted oaks sprawling over the new courtyard outside the Flowery Brush Library; the garden’s handmade charcoal-colored roof tiles and swooping roofs; the whimsical cutouts in the freestanding walls; the giant limestone rocks looming throughout, like sculptural deities.
The good news-bad news is that experiencing the Garden of Flowing Fragrance will take patience. Because of the pandemic, all admissions to the Huntington are by reservation only, even for members, who enter for free. Timed-entry tickets become available at noon every other Tuesday, including Oct. 6, but because attendance is limited, it’s likely slots will fill quickly for people wanting to visit on the Chinese Garden’s official opening day.
But persist. (Masks are required at all times at the Huntington — and be prepared for questions about your health and having your temperature checked before you enter.)
Be sure to bring a smartphone, unless you are well versed in Chinese history and calligraphy. The pavilions, courtyards and many of the larger rocks reveal a poem or name carved in calligraphy, China’s most popular art form, and those words can give new meaning or insight into the scene before you. For nonscholars, the Huntington has created audio guides and a GPS map you can access on your smartphone to get descriptions of what you’re seeing, or the translations of the characters carved into wood or rock.
Indeed, the garden’s place names are poetry in themselves: consider the Studio for Lodging the Mind, the Terrace of Shared Delights, the Verdant Microcosm (dedicated to miniature potted landscapes known as