Reflecting both East and West, the garden's first phase includes a 1.5-acre lake, seven pavilions, five hand-carved stone bridges and a canyon waterfall set against a scenic backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Modeled after a scholar's retreat popularized in the 16th and 17th centuries in the Suzhou area near Shanghai, the garden was designed and largely crafted by ethnic Chinese, including more than 50 stonecutters, wood carvers and other artisans from China. Most of the materials were shipped from China, including 850 tons of sculptural Tai Hu limestone rocks.
But at the heart of a Chinese garden, said curator June Li, are the poetic, literary and artistic associations that give it expressive life. An advisory committee of three scholars spent more than a year with Li researching names for 24 of the garden's scenic views and structures, plumbing China's centuries-old literary traditions.
The committee's selection of Garden of Flowing Fragrance as the overall name, for instance, was inspired in part by a paean to a Chinese river goddess by the poet Cao Zhi nearly 2,000 years ago.
The Huntington first proposed building a Chinese garden more than two decades ago, in part because many of its famous botanical collections -- camellias and azaleas, for example -- originated in China, according to library officials.
A $10-million bequest in 2001 from the estate of the late Peter Paanakker, a Los Angeles businessman, helped launch the effort. Major foundations, including the James Irvine Foundation, Starr Foundation and Annenberg Foundation, contributed seven-figure gifts
But the Huntington also actively reached out to the ethnic Chinese community in California and overseas to meet its fundraising target.
"We've got one of the largest communities of ethnic Chinese outside of China," said Susan Turner-Lowe, the Huntington's vice president of communications. "This garden speaks to their culture and heritage, which I believe is more and more important for citizens of the United States to understand."
Under cloudless blue skies, the dedication Saturday featured quartets of Chinese musicians playing a song, "Suzhou Garden," specially written for the Huntington by a Hong Kong composer.
The garden was decorated with sumptuous floral arrangements by artists flown in from Taiwan.
Four generations of the family of Lily Wong, who donated $200,000, enjoyed the scene. For daughter Angela, 34, the moment was almost unbelievable. Just a century ago, she recalled, the institution's founder, Henry E. Huntington, had developed his railroads on the backs of indigent Chinese laborers.
"To think at one point we were just poor laborers working on his railroads," she said. "I feel proud of the progress we've made."