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Chinese garden emerges on Botanica landscape

Visitors to Illuminations this holiday season will be able to see the entrance to the Chinese garden under construction at Botanica.
Visitors to Illuminations this holiday season will be able to see the entrance to the Chinese garden under construction at Botanica. The Wichita Eagle

When people go to Botanica for Illuminations this holiday season, they’ll notice some imposing new structures — a wall running along the parking lot to their right as they enter, and the tell-tale curved rooflines of the Chinese Garden of Friendship that is under construction.

The Chinese garden is not expected to open until June — its opening having been delayed a couple of times — but much of the hardscape is done, Botanica director Marty Miller said earlier this week. He expects that structural part of the garden to be finished by the end of November, when the area will pretty much be left alone for winter. Come spring, plants will go in, tilework will be done, the pond and stream will be filled with water, and koi fish will call it home.

“It’s going to be absolutely spectacular,” Miller said Monday as we toured the garden in 77-degree weather that we knew was about to vanish in a cold snap. “It’s going to be a destination garden and a cultural exhibit that we don’t have,” he said of Wichita.

“It’s more than a pavilion — the art, the sculpture, and the plums and all the plants we’ll be planting. And lots of chrysanthemums.”

Artist Jennie Becker was making hay while the sun was shining Monday, mortaring pieces of the tail of a dragon to the top of a wavy wall. Becker has sculpted 170 pieces of glazed porcelain clay that will form the green creature that will take up 87 feet.

“It’s going to look different from every angle,” Becker said of the dragon.

“It looks like it’s alive,” Miller said.

That’s because the pieces are not fastened together, Becker said.

Another thing that will give a sense of movement will be a 200-foot-long stream cutting through the garden. Jets will be placed strategically in the stream to give it a sense of movement, said Dale Gracy of Natural Habitat, which is constructing the stream and 6-foot-deep pond.

The garden is maybe a third of an acre, a mainly vertical slice of land butting up to Botanica’s entrance and running up to the new event center that opened in May. The garden opens onto a terrace that will have tables and chairs.

The Chinese garden is a garden of friendship because it is built in honor of Wichita’s sister city in China, Kaifeng. It will include two pavilions, a bridge and a 64-foot-long mural of the Qingming scroll that depicts daily life in Kaifeng during the Song dynasty (960 to 1279).

Some of the artwork is being donated; a panel of jade concubines and a sculpture of marble horses are from a donor’s longtime collection, while a supporter recently picked up a giant gong from an estate sale.

But much of the artwork is steeped in history and symbolism, each piece a lesson in Chinese culture.

Some of the materials and artwork are from China, and some of it is being done by Chinese artists who live in Wichita.

The garden is not the only addition on Botanica’s horizon. Miller is also preoccupied with getting the donated merry-go-round from Joyland refurbished and housed so that it becomes a year-round attraction just outside the Downing Children’s Garden. Miller says that project is now estimated to cost $1.2 million.

Botanica’s biggest event of the year, the Illuminations holiday light show, will run nightly from Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving, through Dec. 31 (except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). Hours will be 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $8, $7 for members, $6 for ages 3 to 12; children under 3 get in free.

Visitors will be able to see through a wrought-iron fence to an entrance to the Chinese garden flanked by guardian lions known as foo dogs.

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @anniecalovich.