Sunday, November 22, 2009

Forbidden Gardens

What is the sound of two screaming man-beasts? You'll have to go to Forbidden Gardens in Katy Texas to find out. Forbidden Gardens is a strange but interesting museum designed around Chinese history and culture. And landscape design plays a large part in the presentation. It's a bit kitschy, but there is a genuine appreciation for the marvels of Chinese culture that adds depth to the experience.

The park opened in 1996 and was funded by Hong Kong business man Ira Poon. The garden features several main attractions. All the exhibits were constructed in China and shipped to the states.

Tomb of Qin Shi Huang-di
I'm sure most people are familiar with the famous terra cotta army that was buried with Qin Shi Huang-di, the first emperor of a unified China. Forbidden Gardens version features 6,000 1/3 scale model warriors, which appeared to be made out of fiberglass. There are also a few life size replicas thrown in, including a chariot with horses. At the far end of the garden, a model of the emperor overlooks the army. Someday, when I have a bigger yard, I want to do my own version of the tomb with 6,000 garden gnomes (I hope no one has done it already).

Model of Suzhou
Suzhou is a city near the Chinese coast that is known as the Venice of China, according to the Forbidden City website. In the map below you can get a sense of the system of canals that runs through the city. The city is renowned for its architecture and gardens. This room-size model that is quite impressive and filled with many charming vinettes. I wasn't really familiar with the city until this visit. Now I'm dying to go there for real! Then I have to make a return trip to Katy to evaluate its accuracy.

Map of Suzhou
map from Micks Travels

The Forbidden City
This 1/20th scale model is huge and filled with hundred of tiny figures recreating colorful scenes from the Chinese imperial court. My friend Kevin, who's been to the actual palace, said the models give you it sense of what it was like before it became overrun with throngs of tourists. The outdoor exhibit is protected by a arena-sized roof canopy, but it still must be quite a task to maintain the model due to the extreme Texas weather. I think it would be best to see this exhibit in the early morning or late afternoon when the sunlight can sneek in under the canopy and light up the model.

There are also some intricate wooden models of imperial palace buildings in an indoor exhibit.

Something that I found interesting about Forbidden Gardens is that it gives visitors a glimpse into a landscape architect's point of view. While the casual gardener is often more concerned with small scale details like flower combinations or furniture placement, these models let you see the patterns and rhythms that occur on the larger scale that architects and landscape architects deal with. This was seconded by Kevin who said the model gave him a clearer understanding of how the palace complex was organized.

If your looking for actual gardens at Forbidden Gardens, there are some plantings of bamboo, trees, and a pleasantly winding lake filled with turtles and accented with miniature building models. Admission to Forbidden Gardens is $10 and definitely worth the price.


Janet said...

6,000 Garden gnomes? You are a nut! Your trip sounds interesting.

How It Grows said...


I prefer the terms 'creative' or 'visionary'.

tina said...

I'd so love to see the Army in China! A friend of mine went last year and brought me back a souvenir. It sounded like a dream trip but lots of work and walking. It would be interesting to see the garden from the architect's view. Neat to consider the whole picture.

Phillip said...

Ok, I'm questioning your plan for 6,000 garden gnomes but I have faith in you. I've never heard of this place. It sounds really fascinating.

Helen said...

Very interesting post. What unexpected treasures! However, that image of the 6,000 garden gnomes will stay with me for a while.

How It Grows said...

Hmmm...based on all the comments, maybe I need to rethink the gnome thing.

Janet said...

that would be a good thing. >:-)

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