I know, this isn't a 'Rainforest Garden". Tropical gardens are obviously my 'thing', but I'm making an exception to my stringent posting policy to make room for this masterpiece of an Asian themed garden.
Even though the plant palette and architectural elements brings temperate China to mind, you can still use the ideas in a Southeast Asian or Balinese garden style. See? I can justify this garden's placement in a tropical gardening blog after all.
The most predominant 'look' here is that of a classical Chinese garden, though the zoo aims to represent a wider variety of Asian culture. From the zoo's website:
"Rather than create an authentic garden specific to any one country or culture, we have created a garden that we hope will resonate with a diverse range of people and their experience of Asian cultures."
At first, the ambiguity bothered me and left me wishing for a more specific and authentic experience, but after reading the above quote from their website, I can appreciate their decision. This piece of acreage really provides you with a selective smattering of the most memorable and appealing elements that the whole of East Asia has to offer, such as traditional architectural features, east Asian plants, and a focus on mingling natural elements together to form an overall sense of harmony and unity. There were even interpretive displays to highlight the backgrounds of the different elements.
An important part of an Asian garden, the water feature takes on a stronger meaning and symbolism than one would find in a typical American garden. Great care is made in emphasizing the relationship between water and land, and Asian water gardens are really more of a meditation on nature itself.
The moon gate is a Chinese convention, and it's rife with symbolism. More importantly (from a garden designer's perspective) is their ability to frame a view and make an entrance look inviting, enticing visitors to take a peek inside the world that lies beyond. This moon gate does an excellent job of compressing a well composed view so that someone on the outside sees what looks like a huge valley on the other side.
This trick is accomplished by manipulating your perspective, ascending the scale of plants from the low groundcovers at the water's edge to the tall trees in the background, and overlapping the layers along your line of sight so there appears to be more peaks and valleys than really exist. Its as if it were a complex hollywood set.
Looking at the moon gate from the other side shows the difference in scale. The tall trees against the wall create another look entirely!
The zoo had this great opportunity to recreate the tropics of Indonesia, and they decided to use temperate Japanese plum and cherry trees instead! There's nothing wrong with temperate plants from China and Japan, but those plants get their time in the spotlight over in the Asian Bamboo Gardens! Where are the thick stands of alocasias, the palms (mule palm would be great here) the gingers and bananas? I'm sure there's a good reason for the discrepancy, but I'm nonetheless disappointed.
Addendum: The Komodo Islands, I remembered, are dry and sparse compared to Indonesia's rainforests. Shame on me!
If the plant pallette of the Komodo exhibit disappointed me, I was thrilled to stumble across a nice little treat. The critically endagered Amur leopard cub was playing with the keeper, and I got to watch! I was shocked to see how playful and full of energy this guy was, and the keeper was kind enough to coax the ecstatic baby leopard over to the glass so I could photograph it.
Here are some other posts on the zoo:
Latin American Theme Garden
Container Garden Ideas