Seattle Chinese Garden: See how it’s progressing

By Jonathan Stumpf
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

In northern West Seattle, just north of South Seattle Community College on a 4.6-acre plot of land, a project is under development that upon completion will house a unique Chinese garden, the only one of its kind outside of China, and tomorrow is your next chance for one of its monthly guided tours, so we visited recently to see how it’s progressing.

The project is a collaborative work in progress between Seattle and its sister city in China, Chongqing and this site was chosen for its commanding views of the Cascades, Olympics and downtown.

The idea was first started in 1986 while then-Mayor Charles Royer was on a trade mission to Chongqing and 23 years later, the Seattle Chinese Garden — now a nonprofit organization—is slowly helping to bring this project into fruition.

What’s taking so long?

Jim Dawson, vice president on the board of directors for the organization, says that is the most common question asked by individuals and donors. He said the various political, social and economic changes in both China and the United States over the past two decades have slowed down the building plans, but also a project of this scale takes time, from the site selection to architecture plans.

The estimated cost of the finished project is $40 million, with various resources coming from individuals, government and corporate donors. The plan is to complete the garden in four phases and presently includes procuring all necessary funding in three years and completing the project in four years. Work is being done on phase one, the Knowing the Spring Courtyard:

This eventually will become the entry point to the finished garden. All building and decoration material unique to China was donated by the city of Chongqing, a gift valued at $1.2 million.

(Jim Dawson stands in front of the four crates of donated material from Chongqing.)

Once construction commences again on the courtyard, thirty Chinese artisans will be living on the grounds, working on the detailed craftsmanship necessary to complete the garden. The public is encouraged to come watch them during their residency and Dawson said it is one of the most amazing things to see them work.

A donation also was made by famed Chinese sculptor Ye Yushan. He came into national prominence after creating the sculpture of Chinese statesman Mao Zedong in a non-traditional relaxed pose that now sits near Tiananmen Square. The sculpture he created for the Seattle Chinese Garden is made from marble and is of the Chinese poet Li Bai, titled Drinking with the Moon.

It currently presides over the South Seattle Community College courtyard; when the garden is completed, it will be at the far north side of the landscape.

The finished garden will have three zones—the mountain, courtyard and water zone. In addition to the Knowing the Spring Courtyard, there’s a bamboo forest:

Also: A teahouse, lotus pond, a three-story viewing pavilion, a 20-foot waterfall, a small lake and over 100 types of various plants native to China.

It will be the only Sichuan-style garden outside of China; this type of garden is traditionally more rustic than other Chinese gardens and tend to borrow from the surrounding scenery.

Essentially, the finished project will be a refuge for Seattle residents to enjoy the world distilled into an ornamental landscape in Chinese tradition. “Overall, the concept of the Chinese garden is a representation of the whole cosmos,“ Dawson said.

Public tours of the Seattle Chinese Garden are offered the second Saturday of every month at 10 am. Reservations are not necessary. Individuals are welcome to make donations to help funding efforts online and annual memberships in the Seattle Chinese Garden Society are currently being offered. For more about the tours and the garden, visit or call 206-282-8040.

10 Replies to "Seattle Chinese Garden: See how it's progressing"

  • d May 8, 2009 (10:50 am)

    Is there a date yet for the arrival of the artisans? I know their housing/trailers are on site and I’m hoping it is sooner than too much later. I am looking forward to watching them work.

  • KatherineL May 8, 2009 (12:17 pm)

    Nice report. Thanks Jonathan.

  • thank you May 8, 2009 (2:04 pm)

    Thank you for this. I will consider taking the tour. This is incredible and so exciting. My Feng Shui Master helped choose this site and spoke of it almost 5 years ago. I just assumed it was done. But now seeing the scale I understand why. Cannot wait though!

  • Cheryl May 8, 2009 (8:45 pm)

    Wow! Very cool. Will definitely make a visit soon, if not tomorrow. Sure look forward to seeing the garden when it’s complete!

  • datamuse May 9, 2009 (8:15 am)

    Looks great. We saw the beginning stages last year when my husband and I were scouting for a wedding site (we considered the SSCC Arboretum, which is also very nice). Really looking forward to seeing the garden when it’s ready!

  • Suzy May 9, 2009 (9:05 am)

    Great report! I am looking forward to visiting the Chinese garden when it’s completed. How cool that it will be in West Seattle.

  • Dawn May 9, 2009 (3:36 pm)

    I have been on the tour. It is awesome. The docents are very knowledgeable and clearly love this project! I look forward to going again to see the artisans at work.

  • Reality Check May 9, 2009 (8:28 pm)

    What a puff piece! It doesn’t answer the question that everyone asks: What is taking so long? Nothing changes at the this job site. No one WORKS at this job site. Nice picture of the dying bamboo.

  • WSB May 9, 2009 (8:46 pm)

    Hi – just to clarify, we assigned this story from the standpoint of, many people don’t even know about this project, but they are having monthly tours. If there is some reason to believe that there is foot-dragging or other malfeasance, we’d certainly be interested in hearing about it from any and all of the “everyones” who are asking that question: – as we are expecting to do more stories in the future – TR

  • Seattle Chinese Garden May 12, 2009 (12:24 pm)

    Thank you again to the West Seattle Blog for visiting the site and introducing the project to our neighbors!

    Here is some additional information regarding comments left earlier:

    * We had hoped to bring the Artisans this Fall but, with our current funding, we are trying to be realistic and are now looking at the Summer of 2010. The materials fabricated in China and the Artisans efforts were donated by our sister city, Chongqing, but we need to have money on hand to support the Artisan team while they are here and to complete the US contractor’s work. To do that, we need roughly $1 million and 5-6 months of lead time for the team to be chosen, visas secured, etc. We are also mindful of attempting construction during the rainy season when curing will take longer and construction expenses will be higher.

    * The scale and complexity of the project and the fundraising involved has been a hurdle in completing the garden. What keeps us going? The understanding that projects of this size take time and that the end result is well worth the struggle. Ultimately the garden will be a dynamic, thriving community space that engages local, regional, and international visitors in the richness of Chinese culture. Our goal is to increase cultural understanding and respect through education and friendship.

    Please feel free to e-mail us at with any questions that you may have!

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