It is well known that cultures can be experienced and explored through food, music, and traditional customs, but often overlooked is the rich opportunity to appreciate and learn from cultures through nature. Throughout history, as we have shaped the lands, they too have molded our livelihoods – we once could only build from what was grown and eat what was raised. The flora and fauna of a country reflects onto the hearts and spirits of its people. Over the centuries humans have manipulated nature to fit our needs – whether it be rows of crops on a farm or patterned shapes in gardens. Gardens can tell the tale of a culture’s history; they tell us about the art, life styles, functions, and techniques of the people who built and used them.
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and here at RTEC we want to honor our family, friends, and neighbors by celebrating their culture and heritage. As we all know, April showers bring May flowers, so what better way to honor Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders this month than to take a look at famous gardens across the globe that are blooming! Let’s take the time to revel in the natural and crafted beauty of these five gardens throughout Asia and the Pacific Islands!
1. The Humble Administrator’s Garden (拙政园) China – Suzhou
Originally built during the Ming Dynasty in 1509, this scholar’s garden is considered one of the most classical gardens in China. Spanning more than 13 acres, this immense beauty features ponds, bridges, winding paths, rock structures, and bountiful plants that make every moment picturesque. While this garden may appear to be a naturally occuring beauty, it took 16 years to construct in order to achieve an organic elegance; even the man-made rock structures appear carved out by mother-nature. This UNESCO World Heritage Site prompts its explorers to meander slowly; several pavilions were designed to engage the wander’s senses. The Hall of Distant Fragrance allows us to stop and breathe in the sweet aroma of the lotus flowers in the pond. The Far Away Looking Pavilion encourages you to take in the scenic views, and the Listening to the Sound of Rain Pavilion perks your ears to tune into the sounds of nature.
2. Garden of Morning Calm (아침고요수목원) South Korea – Gapyeong district
This magnificent garden is a flower-lovers utopia. What originally began as a private garden conceptualized in 1996 by horticultural professor Han Sang-Kyung, this colorful haven has become a sensation for foreigners and locals alike. The founder’s goal was to create a garden which “focused on curves, spaces and asymmetric balance, and Korea’s unique beauty to express class elegance and fabulousness” (www.morningcalm.co.kr/). The garden is encapsulated by mountains, adding to the sensation of being hidden within a secret paradise. Bursting with over 5,000 kinds of plants, 300 of which are species of wild flowers, visitors are astounded by every color and hue of flower imaginable. In the spring – yellows, when the witch hazel and yellow adonis bloom. In the summer, an explosion of colors. The greens become deeper and the pinks become brighter, until there is a rainbow of roses, lilies, hydrangeas and clematis. In the fall, the gingko and maple trees encase the garden in radiant reds and oranges as the season changes. Finally, in the winter, a blanket of powdery white snow lays across the garden, inviting a quietness that lends to the calming nature this garden is famed for.
3. Whangarei Quarry Gardens New Zealand – Whangarei
This resilient garden has risen from the ashes in more than one way. What once began as a stone quarry in the 1940s became abandoned for several decades before a group of volunteers began restoring the site. The community poured love into nurturing the site into a garden that could be used and appreciated by anyone. Many locals volunteered their time and resources to clear the old equipment and remnants of the quarry. Tragically, in 2005 several fires were set within the garden’s forest, resulting in the loss of a third of the vegetation. Once again, the community came together to rejuvenate the land by planting over 12,000 native trees back into the garden in just one year! The Whangarei Quarry was not finished its battle yet. In 2020, floods devastated the gardens and tore through the foliage. It was only through the community uniting again that the land was salvaged and restored. This garden is not only an example of the resilience of nature, but of the spirit and dedication the locals have for their home land. Thanks to their efforts, the land is a natural haven of thriving native plants, cascading waterfalls, and even a living fungi sculpture by world renowned Chris Booth!
4. Limahuli Garden and Preserve Hawai’i – Kaua’i
At over 1,000 acres, this expansive valley nestled within the Makana mountains is hardly your average back-yard garden. With over 1,500 years of cultural history, our journey begins in 1967 when Juliet Rice Wichman acquired the land with plans of restoring and preserving it. She eventually gifted the land to the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, which in turn opened up 17 acres to the public as a garden, and preserved the biodiversity of the remaining land in its natural state. The garden has since won awards for its sustainable ecological practices, as well as an award for its dedication to Hawaiian culture. Nurturing a connection with the earth and the environment is a key component of Hawiian culture. Still intact are the ancient taro terraces within the valley and the array of crops brought over by the first Polynesians. Visitors can treasure this dedication to the environment by hiking the Whale Trail to achieve breath-taking ocean and rolling mountain views or rest by the stream that glides through the hills.
5. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve Singapore
Established as one of the first forest reserves in Singapore in 1883, this 403 acre rainforest is home to a significant density of indigenous flora and fauna on the island (approximately 40%)! The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve was declared a ASEAN Heritage Park by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2011. This lush site rests upon Singapore’s highest hill, making it an attractive destination for hikers and mountain bikers. Stairs and pathways wind through the dense forest, truly immersing you within the ecosystem. You would never guess over 500 species of wildlife were located in the center of the city!
While Asian American and Pacific Island Heritage Month only comes once a year, we can continue to celebrate the unique splendor of all cultures we encounter by showing our community love. Finding common ground, like a love for nature and gardens, is a great way to connect with people who you may have thought you didn’t have much in common with!
This AAPI Heritage Month, try something new from an Asian or Pacific Island culture! You can indulge in a new restaurant, listen to a song in another language, or explore more beautiful gardens!
Are you looking for ways to keep your property beautiful this season?