Bing Chen, Ph.D., treats visitors to his home graciously, especially when those visitors are there to enjoy his garden. He even provides a walking path to his neighbors’ house for easy access to the trails of his garden and has a welcoming spot at the entrance path of his home where guests can sit and enjoy the beginning hints of what lies beyond the home’s structure.
No guests are as eagerly anticipated as the nesting mallards who visit every year in the spring for four or five weeks. Affectionately named “Donald” and “Daisy” by Chen, the mallards come to enjoy the peaceful pond and quiet setting Chen meticulously planned and executed.
“It’s a living Chinese landscape painting,” he says, referencing his favorite style of art. “It’s supposed to make people wonder, ‘where does the trail go?’”
In the late 1980s when Chen and his wife were looking to buy a house in the Omaha area, he already had a vision for the space. “Land options were limited—I sketched a landscape at each potential location.” He visualized a landscape which, much like the paintings he admires, forces the viewer to “stare for a while until the mind starts filling in the missing spaces you can’t see.”
What visitors always see is a cascading waterfall that empties into a koi pond surrounding a viewing deck. Beyond the pond is a variety of landscape details such as a hillside forest, and created hills and mounds. Walking among them feels like walking on a trail in the mountains. There is also a cave with a fire pit directly in front of it, and numerous trails that prove challenging hikes for visitors who want to explore. Places to sit and reflect are peppered throughout the space.
To call the space behind Chen’s house a “garden” does not do the area justice. To say the creation of the space took some effort is another understatement.
Chen tells the story of the day Delwin Rogers of Rogers Sod Farm happened to stop by to see the space Chen was creating. “He looked around and said, ‘You look like someone who needs some boulders.’” Thus began the saga of acquiring the giant rocks necessary to bring Chen’s vision to life—including a 10-ton boulder that “made the neighbors think there was an earthquake” when it was unloaded from the truck. “My goodness, what a thud!” Chen remembers.
Chen named every trail that runs through his space. The two main trails—Ridge Trail and Rim Trail—meet up in various spots and combine into one on the west side of the house. He planted everything intentionally to achieve a “changing panorama of color and texture.”
Winter is a resting period. “The gardens are barren and have a quiet tranquility related to winter introspection,” Chen says. “Spring is a quickening of the pulse” and it’s when crocuses begin to bloom. Summer is when “the maturity of the garden displays itself,” he says. “Senses are engaged and new actors appear on the stage.” Fall is a “slowing down. It’s the last spark.”
Fall is Chen’s favorite time because it’s when he starts planning his planting for the next year. The space may look different from one year to another, yet it remains a delightful respite from the rigors of daily life and a hidden treasure in the Omaha area.
This article was printed in the July/August 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.