Fundraising Underway for 1st Chinese Garden in Minnesota

Renderings of the St. Paul Changsha Garden Photo: Photo: Changsha architects Jennifer Junfang Fan and Jon Youhua Wen Renderings of the St. Paul Changsha Garden

August 15, 2016 12:31 PM

Fundraising efforts are underway to make a planned Chinese garden in St. Paul a reality.

In July, the Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society dedicated a 1.2-acre site at Phalen Regional Park for the Changsha Garden, which would be the first Chinese garden in the state.


St. Paul and Changsha, China, have been sister cities since 1988, and Changsha is also the ancestral home to Minnesota Hmong, according to the society.

Plans for the garden have been in the works since it was included in the Phalen-Keller Master Plan in 2011. The effort has been spearheaded by the Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society, which was co-founded by Linda Mealey-Lohmann.

“We think this can be a great amenity to Phalen Park that can be enjoyed not only by the local community but by everyone in Minnesota, nationally and internationally,” Mealey-Lohmann said.

The project started making strides forward last fall, when Mealey-Lohmann and a St. Paul delegation that included Mayor Chris Coleman traveled to Changsha to learn more about the garden design and architecture style.

After that visit, a husband and wife architect team from Changsha – Jennifer Junfang Fan and Jon Youhua Wen – came to St. Paul in November to visit the Phalen Park site and create a concept design for the garden.

“They really studied the site that Parks and Rec had identified for the garden as part of the master plan,” Mealey-Lohmann said.

About $50,000 in Minnesota Legacy funds was approved for the garden’s conceptual designs, which were unveiled in January. Mealey-Lohmann said that was a “huge step” for the process.

Organizers are now working to raise the money needed to make the garden a reality. Mealey-Lohmann said it will be a multi-year process.

The total project is estimated to cost roughly $7 million.

The first structure on the list is an open-air pavilion that replicates the famous Changsha Aiwan Pavilion. The pavilion is estimated to cost roughly $300,000, which organizers are hoping to raise by the end of the year. The goal is to then break ground on the pavilion next spring.

To raise that money, the society is looking to get donations from private individuals and companies, foundations as well as city and state funding.

In addition to donors, the society is also looking for volunteers who are interested in gardening and art who might help with the planting and maintenance of the garden once it becomes a reality.

About the Garden

The proposed garden will be the first Chinese garden in the state and the first one in the country to use Changsha-style architecture, which is open and tends to blend into the landscape, Mealey-Lohmann said.

“There are seven Japanese gardens in Minnesota and no Chinese gardens. The Chinese presence has been here for more than 100 years,” Mealey-Lohmann said about the importance of the garden.

The hope is that the Chinese garden will be a place for celebration, recreation, education and meditation as well as an opportunity to promote the friendship between the peoples of China and Minnesota.

“We’re hoping that, ultimately, this could result in trade and business connections between St. Paul businesses, the China community and counterparts in Changsha,” Mealey-Lohmann said. “We hope this really opens the door to a lot more changes that promote mutual understanding between the people of St. Paul and the people of Changsha.”

One feature in the works is the Hmong Cultural Plaza, which will be a performance space for cultural events and would also have storyboards that explain the ancestral connection between Changsha and Hmong heritage.

Other plans include an arched stone bridge, a decorative Chinese rock, walking paths and a lakeside pavilion with a classroom.

Mealey-Lohmann hopes the garden will serve as an educational tool to teach visitors about architecture, art and symbolism. She also hopes schools will consider the garden for field trips.

Phalen Park is already the site of the annual Dragon Festival in July, which includes Chinese dragon boat races, Asian performances, martial arts demonstrations and food. The park also houses the “Meditation” sculpture by Changsha artist Lei Yixin, which was created in July 2006 and dedicated by Coleman.

Learn more about the project here.


Jennie Lissarrague

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