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Tianmu’s Best Kept Secret 

Tianmu's best kept secret-08
I’m sure you know the children’s book The Secret Garden, but do you know that Tianmu has its very own version, a bonsai secret garden? This is the Purple Garden just off Tianmu East Road and it’s home to over 130 species of bonsai with around 500 bonsais of different colors, shapes and sizes. What is bonsai? It’s the art of growing trees in pots. In fact the word bonsai is Japanese and means ‘to plant in a pot’. So, there is no one species of tree that is a bonsai, it is more a style of cultivation. Indeed, at this museum you will find living art in the form of bougainvillea and azalea bonsais along with the more traditional pine, juniper or ficus.
The Amy Liang Bonsai Museum, otherwise known as The Purple Garden, was founded in the 1990s by Amy Liang who wanted to share her bonsai collection with the world. Amy became interested in bonsai after being gifted several when she was suffering from depression in the 1950s. She was instantly fascinated by this art and it became a hobby which helped her regain her health through a sort of horticultural therapy. Learning how to nurture the bonsai, trimming the leaves and getting her hands dirty in the earth helped her recuperate. She says that “bonsai brings me hope, happiness and enriches my life, I hope that everyone can nourish their spirituality in the same way as I do through bonsai, leading into a healthy and peaceful life.” Gradually, Amy’s hobby turned into a speciality as she studied more about plants and their cultivation and grew more and more bonsais in her home. Fast forward a few years and she became a world renowned bonsai specialist and the bonsai equivalent of an A-list Hollywood star. She is the only lady so far to be awarded the title of Chinese Bonsai Art Master and since receiving that award in 1974 she has been in high demand to give lectures, open museums and represent the art of bonsai at the highest level. She has taught at universities around the world and her book The Art of Bonsai has been on the bestseller list for years. She is considered the founder of contemporary Taiwanese bonsai and the Purple Garden is often used by the government to welcome visitors from overseas. Despite all this Amy is a wonderfully friendly, down-to-earth lady who is happy to give up her time to share anecdotes about her collection. She has an inexhaustible knowledge about each and every bonsai in her garden and fascinating stories about their provenance and development.
Now in her eighties, Amy is still very much involved with the museum and can often be found advising her gardeners or leading a workshop. However, her daughter Jenny Cheng is slowly taking over the reins of responsibility and is also making her own impression on the museum with her creative ideas.
The museum is a beautiful place to visit just to enjoy some peace and tranquility in a beautiful setting. However, Amy and Jenny also run workshops for schools, universities and groups such as the Rotary Club, both at the museum and outside. You can learn how to grow and take care of a bonsai tree but there are also other options such as making a kokedama (moss ball). You can also make the most of the outdoor space at the museum by taking part in a tea ceremony or a yoga class amongst the tranquil foliage. All these options can be considered horticultural therapy because there is something relaxing about being in an outdoor space surrounded by beautiful plants. Working with plants, learning how to cultivate them and gardening is also a form of mindfulness that can help take your mind off your worries. Simply taking a short stroll around this garden can restore your body’s harmony naturally and offer you peace of mind.
Although this place has been around for years, and opened to the public five years ago, surprisingly few people in Tianmu know about it. Now that you do, I recommend you check it out. You can call and make an appointment to visit. Better yet, join The Center for a tour of the garden and have fun making your own kokedama.
Lucy Torres

Lucy Torres is the
Programs Manager at
The Center and enjoys
organising different
activities and events
that cover topics from
Taiwanese culture to environmental
awareness.

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