Group looks to bring Chinese garden to Phalen

A rendering of the structure imagined for the Chinese garden at Phalen Regional Park would feature southern-style Chinese architecture with sweeping eaves on the roofline. (submitted graphic)

Will hold community meeting Nov. 18

Linda Mealey-Lohmann has for years imagined putting in a Chinese garden in a St. Paul park.

Founder of the Minnesota-China Friendship Group, she’s been advocating for introducing Chinese gardens into the Twin Cities for well over a decade.

“There are four or five Japanese gardens in Minnesota, and there are no Chinese gardens,” she notes.

With a solid sister city relationship with the Chinese city Changsha that’s been going since 1988, she says putting in a Chinese garden at Phalen Regional Park would add to the sister city relationship.

While there’s no funding or complete plans at this point, the dream of putting in a Chinese garden isn’t outside possibility—a Chinese garden is on the park’s master plan, put out in 2011. The master plan puts a rough cost estimate for the garden at $1 million, which includes funding for a large, open-air pavilion, a terrace overlooking ponds, decorative Chinese rocks, a Changsha-style architectural structure, walking paths and vegetation.

The garden would be located to the north of the park swimming area, on the western shore of Lake Phalen.

The master plan also lists a renovation of the park’s amphitheater, picnic pavilion, and the historic waterfall, which was restored this spring, and the addition of a splash pad. The splash pad is currently in planning stages.

Ever since the garden made it into the master plan, Mealey-Lohmann said getting it off the ground was put on hold as her organization waited for St. Paul Parks and Recreation and Ramsey County Parks and Recreation to find staff time to work on the project.

Brad Meyer, spokesperson for St. Paul Parks and Recreation, said that for the Chinese garden to go in, the Minnesota-China Friendship Group needs to raise its own funds to get the project moving.

“Private funding still needs to be raised, and if the funding requirements are met, we would certainly look to move it forward as a project,” Meyer said.

Currently, St. Paul Parks and Rec is pursuing Legacy grant funding for parking and traffic improvements at Phalen Regional Park, as well as for improvements to the beach house.

“A nice amenity”

But, hoping to reignite interest in the garden, the Minnesota-China Friendship Garden Society will reach out to residents at public meetings to try to get momentum rolling for the project.

A meeting held in collaboration with the Payne Phalen District Council will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 18 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Arlington Hills Community Center, 1200 Payne Ave.

William Zajicek, an East Side resident who lives near Lake Phalen, said he was excited to be helping the group generate interest for the garden.

“I think Lake Phalen is one of the big assets that we have in the city of St. Paul,” he said. “Something like this would really be a nice amenity for the whole community.”

Mealey-Lohman said the sister city relationship with Changsha was further cemented in 2006 when a sculptor from Changsha was brought in for “Minnesota Rocks!” a rock sculpting event put on by Public Art St. Paul.

Chinese artist Lei Yixin sculpted a rock that is now displayed at Phalen Regional Park.

Lei is an internationally known artist—he’s responsible for creating and carving the 30-foot Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial “Stone of Hope” installed in Washington, D.C.

Mealey-Lohman has a master’s degree in Chinese language and literature and says she has “this love of Chinese culture.”

To boot, she said Minnesota has an important historical connection with China dating from the late 1800s that many Minnesotans don’t know about, including Chinese workers coming to work on tracks for James J. Hill’s Great Northern Railway.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.


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