Garden Beyond Gardens: Nature’s Beacons of Healing

Hollyhock presenter Dr. Steven Aung is Clinical Professor from the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta. 

What is the Edmonton Chinese Garden?

Chinese Garden PathThe Edmonton Chinese Garden, located in the Louise McKinney Riverfront Park of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, is a 1.25-hectare landscaped garden that houses authentic Chinese architecture, sculptures and horticulture. The land on which the garden stands was generously gifted to the Chinese community by former Edmonton Mayor Bill Smith as a sign of celebration of the flourishing Chinese culture in Edmonton.

Louise McKinney Riverfront Park lies in the heart of Edmonton’s River Valley Park system, next to the downtown core. The North Saskatchewan River forms its south boundary, while Jasper Avenue and Edmonton’s Chinatown District borders the park on the north.

Since 1980, the Chinese community sought to create a garden to reflect their cultural presence in Edmonton. To maximize the use of the land, the Edmonton Chinese Garden Society was established to manage the construction and maintenance of the Edmonton Chinese Garden. To this day, the Edmonton Chinese Garden stand as an unwavering symbol of the unity between Canada and the Chinese community towards prosperity and longstanding development.

What is a “Garden”?

Stone Bridge[1]Gardens are conventionally defined as indoor or outdoor spaces dedicated to the cultivation of plants for aesthetics, hobbies, or plain enjoyment. Gardens are products of the wonders of nature, molded with human creativity and ingenuity.

However, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, gardens are special places that are brimming with nature’s positive healing energy. Because positive healing energy is a requisite for physical, mental and spiritual health, garden, in the traditional medical sense, are known to be beacons of healing, meditation and spirituality.

Historically, the utility of gardens for healing and spirituality can be traced back to a myriad of cultures, which prominently include Chinese and Japanese traditions. The nature of the influence is usually dependent on the location of the garden or its stewards. The Japanese have a very special way of preparing their garden by highlighting the importance of zen (peacefulness), to cultivate mental fortitude and physical control. This allows for more tea ceremonies to be performed, more physical stamina enhanced, and more spiritualities empowered, ultimately elevating the garden’s status into a “garden beyond a garden.” Even on the other side of the globe, Europeans have traditionally incorporated gardens into their architecture and visual culture. The Hanging Garden of Babylon (an ancient wonder of the world), as well as the rich architectural history of the Greek and Roman empires are undeniable proofs of the value that gardens add to human civilization.

Ultimately, more than relaxation and enjoyment, gardens serve as natural and ecological spaces for mindfulness, meditation, Qi Gong and yoga exercises. Gardens are universal healing centres for the people in the community by providing them with constant healing energy, which translates into overall better societal health and productivity.

Components of a Garden

Conceptual PlanA very essential component of a garden is its location. The Edmonton Chinese Garden in Louise McKinney Park oversees the Saskatchewan River by its facade, and behind it is the glorious Edmonton city skyline with its high-rise buildings. The right side of the Edmonton Chinese Garden is slightly elevated and is bordered by a statue of a green dragon to represent and enhance prosperity in the city. On its left is a stone sculpture of a white tiger, which is perched on a lower pedestal to symbolize a special protection of the garden.

When planning for the location and design of new establishments, Chinese traditions employ Feng Shui, a special technique which emphasizes the importance of the layout of key areas, as well as the proper placement of statues and objects, all to enhance the flow of positive healing energy. Based on Feng Shui, the geographical location of the Edmonton Chinese Garden is highly favourable for visitors and patients who wish to relax or meditate around the area. Both the Rocky Mountains to the west and the prairie lands to the east of Alberta contribute to the enhanced spiritual energy in Edmonton whose epicenter is in the Edmonton Chinese Garden.

Within the Edmonton Chinese Garden, a myriad of symbolic sculptures and structural components comprise the physical architecture of the garden, all of which contribute to the empowerment of the healing potential of the garden. Every single individual piece has its own unique and specific meaning and purpose. However, the Edmonton Chinese Garden is living proof of the saying, “The whole is more than the sum of its parts” because of the enhanced effect all of these pieces contribute as a unified and steadfast architectural wonder.

As of recent, the Edmonton Chinese Garden is comprised of the following individual components:

(a) Main Gate and Rock Lions

Rock Lions 1The Main Gate of the Edmonton Chinese Garden is defined by a central and high opening, made with gold colored roof tiles and coating, and is the main point of entry for visitors. In contrast to a conventional gate, the Main Gate of the ECG has no physical door or barrier, as a way to welcome visitors from all walks of life. Red circular columns support the beams and roofs. On the front-facing side of the façade is a wooden board where the words “Chinese Garden” are emblazoned in ancient traditional calligraphy and on its backside, “Wishing you health and happiness in life” is written to bless all visitors as they exit the garden. In addition, a pair of Rock Lions is positioned on both sides of the Main Gate, who serve to both warmly welcome all visitors, and to act as staunch guardians of the garden. Overall, the main gate is one of the key components of the Garden, as it serves to preserve the integrity of the Edmonton Chinese Garden.

(b) The Garden Walls and the Nine Dragons

The wall in front of the garden is a microcosm of the Great Wall of China, which is one of the most powerful reservoirs of energy that protects the garden. By invoking the power of the Great Wall into the Edmonton Chinese Garden, we benefit from its spirit, character and energy.

Situated along the walls of the Edmonton Chinese Garden are nine stone dragon statues. Nine dragons were specially chosen because the number “9” is one of the most powerful and auspicious numbers in Chinese tradition. As dragons symbolize being grounded and stable, these 9 dragons represent the strength of the Chinese community. These nine dragons are known in Chinese tradition to breathe different elements, and as a group, they command the flow of elements on Earth, keeping them balanced and in harmony.

(c) Stone Bridge and Rock Ponds

Pavilion + Rock PondFrom the Main Gate, visitors will approach a Stone Bridge over the magnificent Rock Ponds. This bridge represents the unwavering friendship between the City of Edmonton and its sister city in China, the City of Harbin.

The Rock Ponds are a special component of the garden, because the water element is a universal symbol of good fortune and prosperity. Water streams occur in various forms—brooks, rivers, ponds—and are reminiscent of the human body’s meridians, which allow for the flow of healing energy throughout the garden. In effect, as with human Qi, the water streams purify and recycle negative energy in order to create a positive healing effect. Even the sound of water streams has a profound effect on healing: listening to the bristling water flowing through the rock ponds relaxes our physical and spiritual selves and promotes permanent mind-body-spirit alignment.

The “rock” part of the Rock Ponds is the characteristic metamorphic, sedimentary and igneous rocks specially chosen to surround the perimeter of the ponds. These rocks come in many shapes and sizes: from the small pebbles that intricately build the design of the ponds to the big boulders that double up as meditation and relaxation seats.

(d) Zodiac Statues

Along the border of the Rock Ponds, a total of 12 stone zodiac figures are installed. Every zodiac cycle has 12 years and each animal represents a Chinese calendar year symbolically. The rat starts the beginning of the cycle followed by the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. The rat statue is placed at the 11 o’clock position as the start of the Chinese hour.

It is essential to have 12 zodiac signs in the Edmonton Chinese Garden. Because each one of us belongs to our own zodiac sign, our personal connection to the zodiac statues synergistically enhances our energies. When all of the patients’ and visitors’ energies interact with their zodiacs, the spiritual enhancement everyone in the garden receive is exponentially greater compared to when the zodiac signs are absent.

(e) Monument (Stone Pillar)

Stone PillarA Monument devoted to Edmonton’s Chinese pioneers is installed between the Main Gate and the Stone Bridge. The hexagonal monument base has stone dragon panels depicting four vivid dragons chasing a flaming pearl, which is associated with wealth, good luck and prosperity. The Monument, Hua Biao, as it is called in Chinese, is a replica of the original pillar in Beijing, China. The original pillar was used to glorify the emperor’s achievements. The replica is 5 metres tall, weighs 13 tonness and has a “Sky Howler” adorning its top with a fiery dragon encircling the pillar, which points to Beijing. The Monument pays tribute to the significant contribution and achievements of the Chinese pioneers locally and provincially with events such as railway construction and enlistment in the Canadian military for both World Wars. Mr. George Ng, one of the founders of the Edmonton Chinese Garden Society, wrote a poem that was engraved on the Monument. Around the Stone Pillar, a larger green space provides opportunities for gatherings and special events.

(f) Main Hexagonal Pavilion

PavilionUpon entering the Main Gate, visitors can see the traditional hexagonal Chinese Pavilion which is the focal point of the entire Garden. The design of the Main Hexagon Pavilion is based on the style of the Tang Dynasty and has a two-tier roof with the tip of the upper roof having a circular pearl sphere. The pyramid-shaped roofs have curved ridges and glazed tiles. The main level has circular columns to support the rafters, beams and roofs. The main ceiling has a painting of a dragon flying in the sky. In addition, a bright gold yellow roof is installed as a unique characteristic of traditional Chinese architecture. This bright and colorful composition shines in the summer sky and adds a dash of color in the winter snow. Spiritually, these hexagonal gazebos represent a grounded core that radiates healing energy into six directions, which goes into all possible corners of the universe.

(g) Five Famous Flower Groups

Five famous Chinese flower groups including Peony, Orchid, Peach Blossom, Plum Blossom and Chrysanthemum are represented throughout the Garden. Alcoves with

seating areas are incorporated into the Garden to provide semi-private spaces with opportunities for rest and meditation. The seating areas are placed for viewing of specific elements and to gain an overall sense of the entire Garden. Another flower that is very important in Chinese tradition is the lotus, which is a universal symbol of humility and hope.

The variety of colorful flowers makes the garden’s visitors spiritually content and happy. From a medicinal point of view, the fragrance of the flowers opens the flow of Qi specifically in the autonomic nervous system. From the nose to the heart and from the heart to the brain, the energy travels to various organ systems to enhance their function and heal any disorders. The colors and fragrance of the flowers have a special healing effect to the human body as they stimulate different sensory systems. Overall, the synergistic effect of the flowers provides an enhanced benefit to all the visitors’ health and well-being.

(h) Trees

There are many types of trees in the Edmonton Chinese Garden. Auspiciously, all these trees are just like humans—they exchange energy with the environment and all its sentient beings. If many visitors happen to be inside the garden, trees experience happiness in a spiritual sense because they are able to exchange energies with individuals from different corners of the city. Special mention is necessary for a specific tree present in the Edmonton Chinese Garden: the bamboo. The bamboo represents flexibility and tolerance, which are vital human characteristics.

As humans, one of the most effective ways in exchanging energy with the trees is through spiritual tree-hugging activities. By hugging trees, one’s mind, body and spirit are realigned. In fact, it is well-known in Chinese tradition that trees are one of nature’s best healers.

Near the trees are many sitting areas for all visitors to use and enjoy. From these sitting areas, anyone can hear the flow of the streams of water running through the garden. Being surrounded by trees while sitting in a relaxed location close to water streams allows for constant stimulation by nature’s elements. This in turn enhances the exchange and recycling of our personal negative energies into their positive healing forms.

There are also places for self-cultivation exercises such as Tai-Chi Chuan, Qi Gong, yoga and meditation. Giant boulders and tree stumps are available for visitors to use for practice, in conjunction with the wide open space that people can utilize for these spiritual exercises.

International Peace Pagodas in the Holy Garden

View Overlooking Garden[1]In the future, in addition to the current components of the garden, an International Peace Pagoda (IPP) that contains holy relics will be built as a focal structural feature of the Edmonton Chinese Garden. Several of these IPP’s already exist in virtually all parts of the world, and constructing another holy Pagoda will only enhance the network of healing structures that have already been established. These Holy Pagodas are built as concrete symbols of international peace and universal healing, and surely the Edmonton Chinese Garden will benefit from the addition of a Holy Pagoda in the heart of the Edmonton Chinese Garden. The construction of a Pagoda will only enhance the strength of environmental medicine here in Edmonton, for the benefit of Albertans and Canadians altogether.

Garden for Medicine and Healing

One of the most vital features of the Edmonton Chinese Garden is its role in medicine, healing and well-being. Being in the garden, one gets relaxed and relieved of pressures, worries and fears. When supplemented with self-cultivating spiritual exercises like Tai Chi Chuan, Qi Gong and yoga, we are able to even further our own personal healing. The beautiful scenery and marvelous architecture of the garden will fill the heart of any visitor with joy and contentment. As a group, friends and families can come by and enjoy a hearty discussion in the Main Hexagon Pavillion, which facilitates a social exchange of energy with our loved ones.

In its role as a beacon of healing for Edmontonians, the garden are open and available to anyone regardless of their beliefs, conditions or reasons for visiting, may it be for relaxation, sightseeing or healing. In any case, visiting the Edmonton Chinese Garden will give all of its visitors a chance to exchange energy with nature and all the other visitors as well. As the trees realign our spirit and the flowers enhance our senses, the health benefits in visiting the Edmonton Chinese Garden seem to run endless.

To supplement the natural healing energies flowing in the garden, herbal garden will be established and developed in the very near future. These herbal garden will provide all of its visitors the ability to experience natural and organic supplements, and varieties of tea as new and complementary modalities in enhancing their health. This is in addition to the provision of different integrative medicine techniques provided for by several members of the Edmonton Chinese Garden Society. Acupuncture, massage, and manipulation therapy will be offered as healing modalities for all visitors of the Garden to share the benefits of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Conclusion: Making a garden “beyond a garden”

A garden that is beyond a garden is a transformed and elevated spiritual location that combines the wonders of nature, the architectural ingenuity of humans and the benefits of integrative medicine in order to provide a myriad of health benefits for all its visitors. In addition to serving as a location for relaxation and sightseeing, a garden that is beyond a garden empowers one’s body, mind and spirit simultaneously by way of its physical and spiritual components.

In a way, a garden that is beyond a garden is just like an external, environmental hospital. It keeps people healthy, happy and in peace by harnessing the powers of nature, the spirit of our ancestors and the good intentions of everyone in our beloved city. A garden beyond a garden is a place filled with unending hope and enjoyment, because we are able to heal ourselves through our own volition and with the help and support of our families and friends.

Even the University of Alberta Hospital has a design that incorporates the hospital with garden and meditation rooms. This is a concrete manifestation of the benefits of self-healing that invokes nature and its elements, which is the goal of environmental medicine: to enhance our health by maximizing our benefits from the ecological systems that surround us in our daily lives.

Undoubtedly, the Edmonton Chinese Garden is a sight to behold. More importantly, however, it serves a very important healing and spiritual purpose in our city. We should celebrate its presence here in Edmonton for the sake of all the members of our community, but more importantly, for the benefit of future generations.

Dr-Steven-AungDr. Aung will be presenting Brush with Aung Traditional Chinese Calligraphy on May 19-22, and Aung Medical Qi Gong & Intuition on August 11-14 at Hollyhock.

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