CHINESE GARDEN PLANS. Jan Kowalczewski Whitner, a volunteer who chairs the Seattle Chinese Garden Society's horticultural committee, and Jon Geige, president of the society's board of directors, look over a map of what the garden will eventually look like. It's being built at the north end of campus at South Seattle Community College. Photo by Steve Shay.

Chinese Garden to get 'Knowing Spring' plaza

Like a generous sibling, Seattle's Chinese sister city, Chongqing, has just donated $1.2 million for the "Knowing the Spring Courtyard," the first phase of the Seattle Chinese Garden. Located just beyond the north parking lot of South Seattle Community College, the 50- by 70-foot site will serve as the first of several courtyards within the 4.6 acre Chinese garden. It will feature dramatic rock formations, mosaic floor, source pool, and varieties of pines, magnolias, and rhododendrons native to Chongqing. It will be enclosed by an ornate entry gate and walls with "leak" windows.

Jan Kowalczewski Whitner, a volunteer who chairs the garden society's horticultural committee, says the term refers to the geometric pattern of openings in the walls "which allows views to 'leak' through either side.

"This is the only authentic 'Sichuan' garden outside China," she said proudly, adding that those in Portland and Vancouver are 'Suzhou' Chinese gardens. "'Sichuan' gardens tend to be larger, more untamed, with massive plants, and more of them in proportion to the buildings.

"Chongqing has a similar topography to Seattle. It is built up on hills with views of the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers," she said.

Chongqing was once a provincial city in the Sichuan Province. The city of over 4 million is now part of the Chongqing Municipality.

"In the west, the garden serves as a getaway, a place to be quiet," she said. "But Chinese gardens contain buildings that serve as temples, schools, places for community festivities, tai chi, poetry recitals. When complete, this garden is going to be a very vibrant cultural scene."

The building site is currently decorated with some Chinese plantings and the gazebo-like Song Mei pavilion, next to a pond with white water lilies in bloom. The pavilion was built in 1998 as a prototype to get the ball rolling on the project, now into its third decade of planning.

Jon Geiger volunteers as president of the board of the Seattle Chinese Garden Society. He says completing the 4.6 acre project is "going to take a lot of people working together." While several million dollars have already been donated privately and publicly, he said it will take another $30 million to complete.

"The Chongqing donation is huge because it will motivate a lot more support from the community to allow us to build the rest of the garden," he said. Geiger urges area residents to become garden members and donors.

He believes he was selected for the post because of his 25 years in operations and production at Boeing.

"We're so used to major projects with tight schedules involving people around the world. They brought me in to turn this from a dream into getting it done."

Completing the "Knowing the Spring" courtyard involves a Chinese crew of about 25 artisans, arriving next April, and two Seattle firms, Jones & Jones Architects, and Krekow Jennings, for the site work and foundation. Some structural features are now being built piece by piece in China and will be shipped here just before the Chinese workers arrive.

The Seattle firms were chosen both for aesthetic, and practical reasons. The garden's fourteen buildings on the 4.6 acre complex must be "ADA-Compliant" to accommodate visitors with special needs. Geiger explains with a smile, "The Chinese planners didn't understand why there is going to be an elevator on the 70-foot pagoda."

The pagoda, named the 'Floating Cloud Pavilion,' will stand about 250 feet beyond the "Knowing the Spring" courtyard, and boast views of Elliott Bay, the Seattle skyline, and mountain peaks.

"This will be a fantastic learning opportunity for school kids taking field trips here," said Geiger, who is learning Chinese through a Berlitz instructor. He is enthusiastic about the garden's quiet West Seattle setting and rolling hills. He points to a tall cluster of black bamboo getting a head start on the project. "Listen to that," he said. "You can hear the bamboo in the wind make a very musical, natural sound."

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