Garden Visit: Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

On a recent trip to Vancouver, I paid a visit to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. It's situated in the heart of Chinatown, with views of the city's skyline peeking above the garden's walls and structures. This garden was built to represent the 15th century garden home of a scholar-official's family, and is the first of its kind to be built outside of China.

The garden, which took a team of 53 experts 13 months to construct, has been open since 1986. It was modeled after private classical gardens in the city of Suzhou during the Ming Dynasty. Suzhou-style gardens represent the peak of Chinese architecture, philosophy, art and calligraphy. Ming dynasty scholars were the elite of their time, and spent most of their days secluded behind the gardens' high white walls practicing their studies.

Aside from the plants themselves (due to customs issues), all of the materials used to build the garden and structures were shipped from China. Architectural components like hand-fired roof tiles, lattice windows, carved woodwork, Taihu limestone rocks, and even the courtyard pebbles and broken china dishes came directly from China. The tools and techniques involved were the same used centuries ago — traditional methods that involved no glue, screws, or power tools. The end result is a space with the perfect balance of yin and yang, a concept emphasized throughout the 45 minute guided tour.

While you don't have to take the guided tour (it's free with the cost of admission), if you have the time, the tour will give you a greater appreciation of the architecture and highlight the symbolism built into the garden. As an avid gardener, I was disappointed the tour focused only briefly on the history of the plants and trees. It was noted that in the beginning phases of the garden, weights were hung off tree limbs to "train" the trees. The limbs would grow to have sloping curves and appear more weathered and old, as if they've been growing there for decades. The garden also houses a collection of over 125 Penjing, miniature trees, that are spread throughout the garden during the growing season. Unfortunately, I was there during the off-season when most were seeking protection in the greenhouse.

An interesting aside — the garden was closed to the public for three days prior to my visit. I learned it was because the garden was being used to film scenes for the TV show Falling Skies. Throughout my tour, there was a crew breaking down leftover materials used on the set, so you may notice cardboard and rugs in the photos that would otherwise not be there.

If you would like more information on visiting the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, you can find all the details on their website.

(Image credits: Kimber Watson)