Thursday, 27 February 2014
an unhappy garden
‘Happy Garden’ sounds like the name of a restaurant (I know of one such in Kowloon), but this post is about a real garden, although in its present condition it probably has as much in common with a restaurant as with a functioning garden.
I’d probably ridden past it on several occasions without noticing, because it isn’t easy to spot. It retires between two thick projections of bamboo, and the three-foot drop on the left off the edge of the road means that my attention has to be directed straight ahead. In case you’re wondering, the drop-off was always on my left because, when cycling in the opposite direction, I always take an alternative route.
Anyway, I do glance around whenever I can, and recently as I looked to my right, I just happened to notice an ornate entrance with nothing beyond it. My curiosity was piqued immediately. As you can see from the photograph above, this gateway is falling apart, and it appears to have been abandoned to the ravages of nature for quite some time.
The principal culprit for this disintegration appears to be a small tree, which can clearly be seen to the left of the entrance. The lintel above the gateway proclaims that this is the entrance to Happy Garden, and each of the columns supporting the lintel has eleven characters carved into it. Unfortunately, erosion of the rock from which these columns were made and the encrustation of lichen accumulated over many decades make this writing almost illegible, although I was able to learn that this is a place where one can find peace and tranquillity. There is no date.
So what kind of garden was it? Nowadays, the only plant that can be seen in the remains of the garden is bamboo (see photo below). But bamboo is not a particularly invasive plant—there are a few pernicious weed species in Hong Kong (lantana, morning glory and mile-a-minute vine spring to mind) that would have choked out any attempts by the bamboo to colonize the abandoned garden. I therefore conjecture that planted bamboo was the main feature of the garden.
However, in trying to find out more about the history of the garden, I came across one apparently reliable source that claims it was once a lychee orchard. This does seem to be implausible; at any rate, there is no longer any sign that trees were once found on this site (the tree that is currently engaged in demolishing the gateway must have appeared only after the garden was abandoned). On the other hand, the absence of any evidence that there were formal walkways in the garden does lend tenuous support to the lychee orchard hypothesis, although an orchard is not the kind of place where I would expect to find peace and tranquillity.
I am therefore compelled to leave the question of the garden’s origins and purpose until I have more convincing evidence to work with. I am also interested in finding out when the garden was established, and when it was abandoned. There is one possible clue less than 100 metres west of the Happy Garden:
This is Shek Lo, which would ordinarily translate as ‘the mansion of Mr Shek’, except that the architect and first resident was named Peter, and the Bible tells us that Peter means ‘rock’, while shek is Cantonese for ‘rock’. This doesn’t seem like a coincidence. The mansion was built before the Second World War, but how long before I’ve not been able to discover. It was finally abandoned in the 1980s, and as can be seen in the photo, it is now severely dilapidated and choked with weeds, which have so far thwarted all my attempts to take a closer look. There appears to have once been a connection between the garden and the mansion, and I will be returning to this subject if I can find a way through the undergrowth. I have a few mysteries to clear up.