Like the roots of a plant growing deeper over time, the bonds between siblings often strengthen with age. As 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the sister city partnership between the Missouri Botanical Garden’s home in St. Louis, Missouri, and the city of Nanjing in the People’s Republic of China, the Garden continues to play an integral role in this unique model for international achievement through civic kinship.
Seeds of Collaboration
The first agreement of its kind between the United States and China, the St. Louis-Nanjing sister city relationship was established in 1979 to promote mutual understanding through educational, cultural, municipal, and economic exchanges. But such exchanges were already underway between the Garden and botanical institutions in Nanjing. Recognizing mutual scientific interests and similarities in climate that made Nanjing an ideal partner for the horticultural study of certain plant species, the Garden began trading seeds, herbarium specimens, and botanical literature with the Nanjing Botanical Garden and other regional institutions in 1974. These exchanges helped form the basis for the Garden’s significant involvement in the research, development, and publication of the English-language Flora of China, a landmark 25-year project spanning 22 volumes and covering more than 31,000 species of vascular plants.
The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship (Garden)
For Garden visitors, the most prominent result of the St. Louis-Nanjing partnership took shape in 1996 with the opening of the Margaret Grigg Nanjing Friendship Garden, or Chinese Garden. Tucked into the trees just west of the Lehmann Rose Garden, the Chinese Garden was modeled on the “scholar’s gardens” of the southern provinces of China, near Nanjing, and designed by Chinese-born architect Yong Pan. Garden representatives made several trips to China to identify plant species to populate the Garden, and delegates from Nanjing traveled to St. Louis to consult on the garden’s landscaping and rockwork. In exchange for the gift of the ornate pavilion and marble bridge at the heart of the Chinese Garden, St. Louis donated a playground to Xuanwuhu Lake Park in one of Najing’s most popular recreational areas.
Secrets of the Chinese Garden
The designs and displays of the Chinese Garden are steeped in symbolism and ancient folklore. Look for these details on your next visit.
• The hues of black, white, gray, and reddish brown embodied in the architectural and landscape elements of the Chinese Garden reflect the traditional colors associated with the Gardens of southern China.
• The dramatic swoop of the pavilion’s tiled roof echoes the sweep of neighboring Japanese apricot, Manchurian apricot, and Yulan magnolia tree branches.
• Five stones strategically placed in the pond symbolize the five sacred mountains in China.
• According to legend, every July 7th visitors can hear a couple whispering from heaven in the grape arbor at the garden’s northern boundary.
All in the Family
Far from a sibling rivalry, the Garden’s partnership with the city of Nanjing and the Nanjing Botanical Garden continues to flourish four decades on. A flora as vast and diverse as China’s is critical to sustaining life, not just across that nation but around the world, making the ongoing collaboration between the Garden and Chinese botanical institutions more important today than ever.
Content Managing Editor