The Chinese Garden of Friendship – A Tranquil Retreat in Sydney, Australia

by Editor
Chinese Garden of Friendship

The Chinese Garden of Friendship, a hidden pearl, is a tranquil retreat amidst Sydney, Australia’s busy city center. Located in Darling Harbor, the garden features winding paths, bamboo and Himalayan cedar tree forests, a rock sculpture forest, and ornate and peaceful pavilions, each with its unique symbolism and purpose. It offers cascading waterfalls, ponds filled with colorful koi, limestone rocks, and graceful weeping willows. The Lake of Brightness, the garden’s focal point, is filled with water lilies and sacred lotus flowers.

Chinese garden

A courtyard / Pam and Gary Baker

To weary travelers or visitors seeking a respite from the busy world, a journey through the Chinese Garden of Friendship can provide an unfolding sense of tranquility. A stroll around the garden will help you relax as it gradually reveals its many secrets and hidden stories. Traditional carvings and hidden sculptures tell the story of friendship between two sister cities in China and Australia.

A Symbol of Friendship

The garden opened in 1988 and is a unique symbol of friendship between the people of the Southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, in the province of Guangdong, and Sydney in New South Wales, Australia. Guangzhou and Sydney are two sister cities of sister states. The garden was the first example of a Chinese garden in the southern hemisphere and only the second with signage and exhibits in the English language. The other English language Chinese Garden is in Vancouver, Canada.

Chinese Garden

The Dragon Wall / Pamela and Gary Baker

Several examples of the friendship theme abound in the garden. The majestic Dragon Wall, a gift from Guangdong, features two imperial dragons playing with the friendship pearl. The brown dragon represents Guangdong and the blue dragon symbolizes New South Wales. A pool beneath the dragons mirrors their movements, flying in the clouds above.

Friendship is often considered a reciprocal, balancing process governed, in part, as is the garden, by the Taoist principles of “Yin-Yang.” Similarly, you can find many examples of the harmonic balancing of opposites in the garden. Rocks appear to defy gravity; the still water in the lake befriends against the contrast of the rushing waterfall; short, soft mondo grass beneath long-stemmed bamboo balances a friendly harmony between the two botanicals. Even the pebble beach creates a contradistinction in the harmony of opposites. Using rocks at the lake’s edge alongside lush green plants makes a friendly junction between the garden and the water.

Pavilions for Many Purposes

The garden features seven distinct zones using gates, bridges, pathways, and ponds. A series of pavilions throughout the garden create six scenic zones around the lake, the seventh zone. Two stone lions (male and female) guard the entry pavilion.

Chinese Garden

The Round Pavilion / Pam and Gary Baker

The garden has many intricate pavilions, each with its own symbolism and purpose. For example, the Twin Pavilion was a gift from the people of Guandong to the people of New South Wales and symbolized friendship. Etched side-by-side into this pavilion’s architecture are the Watarah, the floral symbol of New South Wales, and the Red Sil Cotton Tree, the floral emblem of Guangdong.

Chinese garden

The Clear Pavilion / Pam and Gary Baker

The jewel of the garden is the Gurr, a pavilion that sits at the highest point. From its elevation, it offers a birds-eye view across the entire garden to the Lake of Brightness, covered in the summer with fragrant flowering lotus blooms. The Gurr, known as the Clear View Pavilion, features a lavish golden roof. It contains intricate wood carvings and an ornamental lantern that symbolizes wealth.

Chinese garden

The Commemorative Pavilion / Pam and Gary Baker

Other pavilions, such as the Hall of Longevity, the Boat Pavilion, the Lenient Jade Pavilion, the Water Pavilion of Lotus Fragrance, and the Hall of Clear Shade, are located throughout the zones. Here, visitors can sit and breathe in the peace and tranquility within the garden. The garden’s design allows visitors to connect from the pavilions to the landscape.
Bricks, ceramic grills, reveals, and tiles used in building the pavilions were either manufactured, crafted, or recovered from traditional sites in China.

Trees, Plants, and Flowers

The trees dominating the hilltop are black pines (Pinus thumbergil). Dark evergreen trees covering the “mountain” scenic area provide a perpetual backdrop and a screen for the garden. The trees also serve as a foil to the city’s buildings visible outside the garden wall. The pines evoke thoughts of traditional mountain scenery and are also said to be one of the three friends of winter, together with the plum and bamboo planted nearby.

The garden features more greenery than flowering plants. Willow trees grace the edge of many ponds and waterways throughout the garden. Bamboo is also generously planted throughout the landscape. A small corner of the garden features Bonsai plants, a number of which were gifts from Guangdong. Sago palms and ferns add more greenery to the landscape.

Chinese garden

Lotus flowers in the lake / Pam and Gary Baker

Hong Kong roses, lily magnolias, azaleas, Camellia japonicas, and heavenly bamboo are the colorful blooms most commonly found in the garden. However, occasional pots of impatiens or blooming peace plants (Spathiphyllum) are also scattered about. The lily magnolia (Magnolia lilliflora) is the first flower to bloom in the garden, followed by azaleas that signal the start of Spring.

The garden’s Camellia japonica was introduced from Japan into China in the 1800s. It blooms in the garden from Autumn to mid-Winter. And heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) produces bright red bunches of berries in Winter. The Hong Kong rose (Rhodoleia championii) is native to Southeast Asia and Southern China. It typically blooms from mid-winter through mid-spring. The lake features its sacred lotus flowers.

Uncover Hidden Stories

The garden features many hidden stories throughout. Visitors who pay close attention will discover them through the generous symbolism and interpretive signs. There is a rock “forest” filled with giant rock sculptures that tell the story of Ashima and the Landlord. The tragic yet beautiful story tells the tale of the Dancing Maiden Ashima, her beloved Ali, and the cruel landlord who attempts to thwart their romance.

Chinese garden

Moon gate / Pam and Gary Baker

The Seven Sages in the Bamboo Forest evokes a celebrated group of third-century Chinese scholars and poets in a peaceful grove of black bamboo.

Eastern Water Dragons, known as the “keepers of the garden,” can be spotted throughout the garden, scampering across pathways and perching on rocks. Although shy, they will stop and pose for a photograph if you approach cautiously.

The History

By 1852, according to the garden’s archives, more than 1500 Chinese men arrived in Australia seeking their fortunes in the gold fields. Most of them emigrated from the Guangdong Province. By the 1870s, most Chinese immigrants operated market gardens supplying the fruit and vegetable markets in the Haymarket area. In 1909, the Sydney Council built produce markets known as Paddy’s Market in Haymarket. The market attracted a diverse collection of Chinese businesses and eventually developed into what is now Sydney’s famous Chinatown.

The eastern shore of Sydney’s Darling Harbor, where the Chinese Garden of Friendship now stands, was originally the center of Australia’s industrial revolution. Several large-scale enterprises operated out of the harbor, including the Fresh Food and Ice Company. It’s believed that the first ties between Australia and the Chinese market began here.

Chinese garden

View from the garden’s high point / Pam and Gary Baker

When Sydney began redeveloping Darling Harbor as a Bicentennial project, the Chinese community advocated including a traditional Chinese garden. In 1984, the minister for public works unveiled the city’s plans to build a garden in Darling Harbor. The history of these types of gardens goes back to the Han Dynasty, almost 2000 years ago. After months of working with the Guangdong Landscape Bureau, the project released a final plan and model for the garden, paving the way to bring one of the most ancient forms of the gardener’s art to Sydney’s busy city center.

Both Chinese and Australian craftspeople and artisans worked on the project. On March 16, 1986, under the leadership of architect Henry Tsang, then the deputy mayor of Sydney, the team finished the project. On January 17, 1988, as part of Sydney’s Bicentennial celebration, representatives of both governments formally opened the Chinese Garden of Friendship.

A Place of Peaceful Harmony

Whether you’re seeking respite from the busy Sydney city or a touch of cultural immersion, the Garden of Friendship is well worth a visit. Guided by the Taoist principles of Yin-Yang and the five elements of earth, fire, water, metal, and wood, the garden offers a nurturing, peaceful environment. You’ll leave with an appreciation for the genuine friendship that went into creating the garden and a clear mind and relaxed outlook from spending a few hours in such a serene setting.

When You Go

The garden is open daily except it is closed on Christmas Day and Good Friday.

Chinese garden

Bonsai on display in the garden / Pam and Gary Baker

The Gardens by Lotus is a restaurant housed in a heritage-listed teahouse within the garden. It serves signature dumplings, fiery Szechuan cuisine, and Chinese tea.

The W Sydney is a newer hotel with amazing views of Sydney. It is also within walking distance of the garden. QT Sydney provides an excellent location within Sydney’s Central Business District.

Featured image: Chinese Garden of Friendship / Pam and Gary Baker

Pam and Gary Baker are California-based food, wine, and travel writers. They love exploring the world and discovering new places, especially when it includes exploring new gardens.

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