Botanica Finds Tranquility With New Chinese Garden Addition

Jun 5, 2015

A brand new 'Chinese Garden of Friendship' is debuting Friday afternoon at Botanica. Construction began just over a year ago, and since then, bright red pavilions, a jade dragon and a variety of koi fish have made it their home. KMUW’s Sean Sandefur has more…

These "Fu Dogs" guard the entrance to the Chinese Garden of Friendship at Botanica
Credit Sean Sandefur

    

A decorative wall is on the only thing that separates the new Chinese Garden of Friendship from Botanica’s parking lot. But go beyond those six inches of concrete and you’re transported into a winding garden with waterfalls and plum blossoms.

Marty Miller, executive director of Botanica, is giving a walking tour of the park's brand new attraction.

“What we're trying to do is display culture,” he says. "This is a showcase garden. And I think we've done that."

The entrance  is guarded by Fu Dogs—big concrete statues also known as guardian lions. They sit under a towering red pavilion that features a decorative tiled rooftop.

Miller walks out into small courtyard with a meticulously manicured lawn.

A traditional Chinese pavilion is seen through a fir tree
Credit Sean Sandefur

“In China, this is often where the scholars would build their homes," Miller says. "The formal garden would be in front, and then there'd be a road. Sometimes they'd even called this the 'dirty garden' because it's the one closest to the road.”

A lot of research went into the design of this garden—even firsthand research. Miller accompanied former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer last fall to tour Kaifeng, Wichita’s sister city in China.

“Kaifeng is actually a very flat city and it's cold in the winter—windy," Miller says. "The city is located on the Yellow River, like we're located on the Arkansas River. And the latitude is about the same as the Kansas-Oklahoma border. There's a lot of plants that we already grow in this country that are from China."

Miller says he wanted to bring a snapshot of China’s vast and beautiful gardens to Wichita, including a Koi pond.

Koi fish enjoy a large pond that's dotted with lilies
Credit Sean Sandefur

"We've already started Koi in here, so there's quite a few of those, and we have the lilies and the lotus and the plants around the pond," he says.

Gardens have a very important spiritual significance in China. Plants, ponds and streams all hold symbolic importance. The unusual, asymmetrical shapes of 'scholar rocks,' which are carved only by nature, can signify wisdom and immortality.

These large rocks, plucked from the Flint Hills, are meant to mimic the "scholar stones" that are a staple in traditional Chinese scholar gardens
Credit Sean Sandefur

“Rocks are essential to Chinese gardens," Miller says. "You can see things in rocks like we look at clouds. You see different things. In China, the rocks come from cold-water lakes. And they harvest those rocks, and they're very uniquely shaped. Our rocks are from the Flint Hills.”

Some of these rocks are 4 or 5 feet tall. With large holes, they’re rough around the edges—striking to look at against the carefully groomed flowerbeds, which have Chinese hydrangeas, purple irises, chrysanthemums and dark green fir trees. 

The garden also features a long, golden scroll, known as Qingming shanghe tu.

The garden features a replica of the Qing Ming Shang He Tu, an 800-year-old scroll that depicts a spring festival in Kaifeng
Credit Sean Sandefur

It depicts the spring river festival (sound familiar?) in Kaifeng, Miller says.

“This scroll starts in the rural area. It shows the farmers coming into town and the boats coming up the Yellow River," he says. "It shows the area where the merchants are bringing the goods to the marketplace. You can see where the Emperor sat. It's quite an interesting piece of history.”

The scroll is affixed to a wall. It’s a replica of an 800-year-old ink drawing.

Under a small bridge, which sits at the foot of a waterfall, quarter-sized Koi fish dance from one side of the stream to the other. High above them is a playful jade dragon. With over a hundred pieces of vertebrae, it zig-zags for nearly 90 feet atop a long wall.

This nearly 90-foot ceramic dragon has a pearl in its mouth
Credit Sean Sandefur

“He’s the keeper of the underground treasure," Miller says. "And he's got his favorite part of the treasure in his mouth: a big ole' pearl.”

The dragon is the creation of local artist Jennie Becker. Many local elements are blended into this international garden: a large mural of plum blossoms that was also done by Becker; the protective Foo Dog statues were donated locally; and artist Chiaw-Weai Loo produced what are called jade leak windows that are installed throughout the garden walls.

The events space that's adjacent to the Chinese Garden of Friendship
Credit Sean Sandefur

“What we've done here is exceptional. It's turned out better than I ever dreamed," Miller says. "It's going to be a great piece for our entire community.”

Altogether, the garden was a roughly $1.2 million investment, all of which was paid for by private donors. Miller says a large adjacent building will be able to accommodate weddings, conferences and parties.

He says the opening of the Chinese Garden of Friendship represents a new era for Botanica.