Modern Gardening: Rooted in Chinese Culture - Page 2

Chi-minded gardening dynamo turns her Davis Streng home into a tranquil healing haven

Whether a visitor is chi-minded or not, the effect is entrancing. The garden has a series of distinct destinations, each with its own mood and feeling, and the visitor is guided carefully through them. As you turn into the main garden, a sweet olive tree provides scent, a stained glass image of a turtle suggests longevity, and a curved trellis supporting purple-flowered lavender trumpet provides height. Stands of weeping bamboo and black bamboo welcome the visitor. "Bamboo waves to you, says hello, smiles to you," Huei says. "The trees, they are waving to you, a soft look. These are all my children."

"Everything I planted here," she says, "I have a reason." The main garden, surrounded by a shoji-like fence, features three waterfalls, a koi pond and low bridge, a Buddha in a pavilion, a Hollywood juniper trimmed like a bonsai, a pair of red foo dogs for protection and a pair of red dragons serving as bodyguards. The landscape is layered and structured for height, with raised beds and a variety of ever-changing plants to get maximum interest out of a small space. Huei changes the garden every three months. She changes the color scheme to fit the year. The current Year of the Ox represents metal. "So for me, more white or blue," Huei says.

Huei is a private person and doesn't open her home itself for tours. But her design for garden and home is one. She called in contractor Bert Bangert to open several rooms to the out of doors. Every room opens onto a garden. An extended trellis shades the south-facing living area and master bedroom, providing shade for outdoor living. It's draped with wisteria. "I wanted it to look like a curtain," Huei says.

outside huei's home

Huei opened up the kitchen by removing a center island, removed a bank of cabinets to create an open tea room, added skylights, and created a moon gate doorway between kitchen and hall. Cliff had his doubts when he saw the plans for the moon gate. "But it turned out great," he says. Bangert paneled the master bedroom and baths with beautifully grained redwood. The same reds that race through the garden are found in the house, from the plush leather furniture of the front living area to the sunken red Jacuzzi tub in the master bedroom. Huei loves red, the cheerful color of healing, power and fame. `

Her Eichler home in Palo Alto's Los Arboles subdivision is proving a challenge. Huei, who also owns several rental properties in Davis, bought it for her sons, who work on the Peninsula. Built in 1960, the low-gabled home provides great raw material. But Huei has just started its transformation. She's lightened some of the woodwork, added skylights, red rugs and chairs, a Chinese garden gate and a jacaranda tree. But, she says of the garden, "To my eye, I don't think it has life. This, 1 to 10, I'd give it a 6."

Huei was born in China's Westlake district. Her father, who served in the Nationalist air force, fled to Taiwan after Mao came to power. She came to the United States as a young woman, and met Frank Young, a draftsman, through a relative. The Youngs were Davis's first Chinese family and ran the popular Sacramento Café. Huei credits the home's improved chi with healing her husband, who was crippled by a fall in 1997. Today he walks and drives, and helps Huei deliver meals to needy families in the area. This is on top of her cooking for Davis Community Meals, which serves food to those in need every Tuesday and Friday.

"It's not like she does this because, 'Aren't I great?' " says Jane Matteson, a volunteer and former dining coordinator for Davis Community Meals. "She does it because she wants to do it."

Patrick Widner, executive director of International House, which provides programs for international students and the wider community in Davis, remembers the time Huei opened her home for a group of agricultural scientists from China. "It was one of the most elaborate lunches I ever experienced. The food never stopped coming," he says. "I thought that was the end of it and the food kept on coming." He also remembers her cooking for benefit dinners for 80 at International House. "All the time she's doing it," he says, "she's also dancing in the kitchen. She's very upbeat."

Heui says she has no choice but to work hard. "I feel I have so many people I want to help. If I don't do enough to help people, I don't sleep well. A lot of people need my help."

"Nothing holds me back," Huei says, "because energy is a power."

Photos: David Toerge