Serenity Now: Chinese Garden at SoCal's Huntington Library
SAN MARINO, Calif. -- On a typical day at the Chinese Garden at the Huntington Library in San Marino, the smell of flowers - jasmine, camellias - floats across the garden's man-made lake in the center, flanked by limestone rocks, airy pavilions and hand-carved bridges.
It's no mere coincidence, then, that the garden - one of the largest traditional Chinese gardens outside China, encompassing 12 acres - is officially named the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, and its 1.5-acre lake the Lake of Reflected Fragrance. Pavilions with gray swooping tiled roofs all face the water, surrounded by pine, maple, plum and California oak trees. Inspired by the Ming dynasty, the garden opened at Southern California's massive, 207-acre Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in 2008. A new rock grotto - part of a continuing expansion - includes a waterfall.
As a nearby Pasadena resident and Huntington member, I started spending time at the Chinese Garden three years ago. It remains my go-to oasis, and especially during off-peak days and times, when it's not as packed with visitors.
I sit alone, usually in a pavilion with circular wooden arches called Love for the Lotus, stretch my legs on a stone bench, close my eyes, breathe in the scent of flowers and listen to koi fish and ducks swishing through the lake. Then I stare at the water and the enormous, curving San Gabriel Mountains north of the garden, and I write.
That incorporated view of the mountains - so symbolic of California - makes the Chinese Garden even more special. A tea house with a stone-patterned courtyard at the south end of the lake has a terrace called Terrace that Invites the Mountains that purposefully faces the San Gabriels.
Also, every Wednesday, a solo musician comes and plays a traditional Chinese instrument, from the four-stringed pipa to the two-stringed erhu fiddle, in one of the pavilions. On a recent Wednesday, I sat in my usual spot at Love for the Lotus, listening to an erhu player perform, her bow stretching across the narrow wooden instrument.
The erhu's twangy notes mingled with the sound of chirping birds and the grotto waterfall splashing against rocks imported from China's Lake Tai region. As the afternoon sun shot out orange rays, the lake's sand-colored Jade River Bridge mirrored itself in the water.
The scene looked like a painting - colorful, soothing, serene - a world away from cars, streets and stoplights only minutes outside the garden. I breathed in the smells, slipped my cell phone into my purse, and listened.
If You Go...
HUNTINGTON LIBRARY'S CHINESE GARDEN: 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, California; http://www.huntington.org/ChineseGarden/. Open 12 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday - closed Tuesdays - and 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Adults, $23 weekdays, $25 weekends.