How azaleas can bring Americans closer to China

In China, garden design is an art form that can be traced back more than 3,000 years. Its features reflect values: Peonies represent peace, bamboo stands for wisdom and rocks symbolize stability and virtue.

Thanks to a U.S.-China collaboration, a classical Chinese garden is being constructed on a large swath of land at the National Arboretum in Washington. The project will allow visitors to “experience the exquisite beauty and symbolism for which Chinese gardens are famous,” said Catherine Novelli, a U.S. State Department undersecretary whose portfolio includes the environment.

The China Garden’s landscapes will include five elements: rocks, water, architecture, plants that thrive under harsh conditions (pine, cypress, bamboo) and spaces reserved for contemplation.

Two color sketches of Chinese gardens (Courtesy of the National China Garden Foundation)
The garden’s Embracing Mountain Building, left, will host seminars. The Floating Fragrance Hall, right, will offer a sensory experience. (Courtesy photo)

Visitors will be able to explore three sections:

  • The Mountain House of Sliced Stone, an entrance hall leading to a rockery, a pool and a tea house.
  • The Ge Garden (Four Season Garden), which will include pavilions, boulders and Chinese plants representing each of the year’s seasons in turn.
  • The Garden Floating on the Lake, with flowering lotus and water lilies, plus footpaths linking a pagoda, a five-pavilion terrace and a peony garden.

A garden for everyone

Richard Olsen, director of the U.S. National Arboretum, said exchange programs at the garden will attract U.S. and Chinese students of horticulture, botany, forestry and landscape architecture.

The public will enjoy a place to relax while learning about the influence of Chinese horticulture on American landscapes. Azaleas, camellias, irises, peonies, roses and rhododendrons are among the many plants that originated in China.

Novelli said the China Garden, a symbol of harmony between mankind and nature, highlights U.S.-China environmental cooperation. But “first and foremost, it will serve as a symbol of the deep and continuing friendship between the American and Chinese people.”