Ground broken for China garden at Lake Phalen

file image • Construction of a replica of the famous Aiwan Pavilion, in Changsha, China, will begin in the next few weeks at Lake Phalen Regional Park, following a July 14 groundbreaking ceremony.

Aundrea Kinney/Review • The July 14 groundbreaking ceremony included cultural performances, including the playing of a traditional Hmong instrument called the “qeej.”

file image • The pavilion is a part of the St. Paul-Changsha Friendship Garden of Whispering Willows and Flowing Waters at Lake Phalen Regional Park, which is a symbol of the sister-city relationship between St. Paul and Changsha, China.

Visitors will be able to watch Chinese craftsmen work in next few weeks


After 30 years of friendship and many years of planning, a garden celebrating the friendship between the City of St. Paul and the City of Changsha, China, is beginning to take shape.

The garden, called the St. Paul-Changsha Friendship Garden of Whispering Willows and Flowing Waters, will be located in Lake Phalen Regional Park, north of the picnic pavilion and amphitheater. 

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on July 14 during the annual Dragon Festival — a celebration of Pan-Asian cultures — which takes place at the park. 

The garden will include a replica of Changsha’s famous Aiwan Pavilion, a Hmong Heritage wall and an entrance arch. 

The replica pavillion was a gift from Changsha to St. Paul. As a part of the gift, Changsha is also covering the expense and labor of 13 Chinese craftsmen who will put the pavilion together in the park.

In return, St. Paul created and sent five “Peanuts” character sculptures that will be installed in the Yanghu Wetlands Park — the sister-park to Lake Phalen Regional Park — in Changsha. 

The Lucy sculpture was painted in a traditional Hmong outfit, symbolizing the ancestral connection between the St. Paul Hmong community and Changsha, in Hunan Province, which is considered to be the ancestral home of the Hmong people. 


The strength of diversity

During the July 14 ceremony, many of the event’s speakers talked about the unity the garden will illustrate between the two cities, as well as its representation of the city’s diversity. 

The groundbreaking and construction of the garden is concurrent with the 30th anniversary of the sister-city relationship. The garden project itself was initiated in 2005. 

“The path to get here has been long,” said Linda Mealey-Lohmann, president of the Minnesota China Garden Friendship Society. “Today our dream is being realized.”

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter also spoke at the garden’s groundbreaking ceremony, noting that the garden highlights the strengths of St. Paul’s diversity.

“I think we can build a city where everyone can thrive because we’re so diverse, and that’s our vision for our city,” Carter said. “That’s why it’s so important for us to celebrate today. Those roots of our city go deep, and those roots of our city cross oceans, and those roots of our city plant us in other countries and on other continents.”

Mealey-Lohmann said that through enagement with local Hmong historians, garden planners came to understand that the Hmong people trace their roots back to the Changsha area. 

“There’s a strong ancestral connection between our city and this area in China, so that will be reflected in this park and in this heritage wall. This has really given a deeper significance to this whole sister city China garden,” Mealey-Lohmann said.

District 67 Sen. Foung Hawj, who represents the East Side, also spoke at the event.

“As a Minnesota senator of Hmong descent, I cannot be more content to have this ancient replica of peace and tranquility and the heritage wall made from the home of my ancestors to be placed here in the district I represent,” he said. “Nearly 240 years ago, my people, my Hmong people, were driven out of China to Laos in our own trail of tears.”

Hawj added he is excited to have the garden on the East Side, because it will make the neighborhood a destination, a place out-of-towners will come visit. 

“Make them come to us,” he laughed.

In a letter from U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar that was read at the event, she said the garden, with its Changsha architectural influence, is the first of its kind in the U.S. 

“It’s a wonderful addition to the Twin Cities community,” Klobuchar said in her letter. 

The rest of the event included cultural performances by both Chinese and Hmong culture groups and a procession to and from the garden’s future site.


A timeline

At the time of the July 14 ceremony, Mealey-Lohmann said five shipping containers containing the pavilion, heritage wall and entrance arch pieces were en route to the Twin Cities. 

However, one container inspected at the North Dakota-Canadian border, was found to have seeds in it not allowed in the U.S., and it was unknown how it will affect receiving the shipment and the construction timeline. 

The hope is that the Chinese craftsmen will be able to begin construction in the remaining weeks of July. Visitors to the park will be able to stop by and watch the craftsmen work. 

More construction will take place in the future when more funding is secured. Future amenities will include a Hmong cultural plaza, a lakeside pavilion, a Chinese arched bridge connecting to the island, a stone garden and a Tai Qui plaza. 

The estimated cost of the project, including future construction, is about $7 million.


– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto

– Aundrea Kinney contributed to this story.

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