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The Gardens of Suzhou

The Gardens of Suzhou

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    The Gardens of Suzhou
    Book Description:

    Suzhou, near Shanghai, is among the great garden cities of the world. The city's masterpieces of classical Chinese garden design, built from the eleventh through the nineteenth centuries, attract thousands of visitors each year and continue to influence international design. In The Gardens of Suzhou, landscape architect and scholar Ron Henderson guides visitors through seventeen of these gardens. The book explores UNESCO world cultural heritage sites such as the Master of the Nets Garden, Humble Administrator's Garden, Lingering Garden, and Garden of the Peaceful Mind, as well as other lesser-known but equally significant gardens in the Suzhou region. Unlike the acclaimed religious and imperial gardens found elsewhere in Asia, Suzhou's gardens were designed by scholars and intellectuals to be domestic spaces that drew upon China's rich visual and literary tradition, embedding cultural references within the landscapes. The elements of the gardens confront the visitor: rocks, trees, and walls are pushed into the foreground to compress and compact space, as if great hands had gathered a mountainous territory of rocky cliffs, forests, and streams, then squeezed it tightly until the entire region would fit into a small city garden. Henderson's commentary opens Suzhou's gardens, with their literary and musical references, to non-Chinese visitors. Drawing on years of intimate experience and study, he combines the history and spatial organization of each garden with personal insights into their rockeries, architecture, plants, and waters. Fully illustrated with newly drawn plans, maps, and original photographs, The Gardens of Suzhou invites visitors, researchers, and designers to pause and observe astonishing works from one of the world's greatest garden design traditions.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0725-5
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xv)

    The gardens were built with the intent of providing pleasure to the family and invited guests. When you now visit the garden, do so as if you are an invited guest. You should enter the gate and proceed to the reception hall or main hall of the residence as this is where you would have been greeted by the owner. In almost every garden, a discreet passage from this hall leads out into the garden proper. Taking this path is an effective way to understand the spatial and experiential sequence of the gardens from a visitor’s point of view.


    (pp. xvi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-20)

    The land—topography, waters, stones, vegetation, and climate—bestows the framework and materials of the great garden traditions of the world. Persian gardens amplify scarce water resources into fragrant courtyards. The Renaissance gardens of Italy negotiate the hills around Rome and Florence with terraces from which prospects are revealed, grottoes are embedded, and watercourses flow. The basins of water in French Renaissance gardens stretch across the level plains of central and southern France. The eighteenth-century English landscapes of rolling hills and shallow lakes were constructed on soft, chalky soils criss-crossed with gentle streams. The gardens of Kyoto benefit from a...

    (pp. 21-30)
    Jia Jun

    A potent contrast exists between the orderly sequence of four-square courtyards fronted by rectangular halls of the residential precinct and the confounding variety of pavilions, rockeries, ponds, corridors, and courtyards in the gardens. The residential halls and courtyards reveal a formal, Confucian hierarchy of relationships while the gardens express, it is often suggested, a Daoist flexibility. The scholar-officials who typically built the gardens led lives that similarly negotiated between these two philosophical poles and the vitality of the gardens of Suzhou is often amplified by this contrast.

    The importance of each building is directly related to its size, or more...


      (pp. 33-42)

      The Humble Administrator’s Garden, sometimes referred to as the Garden of the Unsuccessful Politician, is the largest of the Suzhou gardens and is deeply enriched by its association with the esteemed Ming artist Wen Zhengming, who painted views of the garden while a frequent visitor.

      The garden has three adjacent sections: the eastern, middle, and western gardens, with the middle garden being the most distinguished.

      The current entrance for visitors is through the eastern garden, but visitors should briskly walk through the east garden, enter the central garden, and continue to walk directly to the historic entry of the main...

      (pp. 43-53)

      The Lingering Garden, a dense and intricate garden unmatched by any garden in Suzhou for its variety and intimacy of spaces, is widely regarded as the finest integration of architecture and garden in Suzhou. It also contains the Cloud-Capped Peak, the most acclaimed Tai Lake specimen stone in Suzhou.

      The entrance sequence into the Lingering Garden, as Maggie Keswick remarked, is “full of tricks.” The visitor winds to the north through a series of intimately scaled courtyards dense with columns, knee walls, overlapping roofs, thwarted vistas, and the aroma of magnolias or the sight of vivid plum blossoms.

      The entrance...

      (pp. 54-59)

      Lion Grove, sometimes referred to as the Lion Forest, is a former temple garden dominated by an exuberant rockery with dozens of upright stone “lions” gathered around the central pool. The confounding routes of paths through the rockery are remarkable for their variety, richness, and surprises.

      The garden was originally laid out behind the Lion Grove Temple, founded by the Buddhist monk Tianru Weize (1286–1354) during the Yuan Dynasty. Lions are potent Buddhist figures, and the name of the temple also referred to the mountain retreat of Tainru Weize’s teacher Zhongfeng. The rockery dates from this very early garden...

      (pp. 60-64)

      The Surging Wave Pavilion has the longest history of any of the remaining gardens in Suzhou with its conception dating from the Song Dynasty construction of the Canglang Ting, or Surging Wave Pavilion, alongside the canal that now fronts the north side of the garden. Canglang Ting, whose name is derived from a poem in the anthology Songs of Chu, is also known as the Deep Blue Wave Pavilion.

      A large hill, stretching east-west, occupies the middle of the garden and is encircled by the renowned winding corridors. The corridors rise and fall with the topography to make an experientially...

      (pp. 65-77)

      The Master of the Nets Garden is a finely detailed small garden whose origins extend back to the Song Dynasty. The three-courtyard residence elegantly exemplifies the social and familial order of the retired scholar. The relationship between the halls and pavilions in the garden to the square-shaped pond is noted for their variety of being “on, against, near, overlooking, and secluded from” the pond itself.

      The desire for the beauty of nature and to retreat from city life—especially the treacherous imperial bureaucracy—motivated Shi Zhengshi to retire from his Southern Song Dynasty bureaucratic post and build his Hall of...

      (pp. 78-80)

      The Garden of Harmony, sometimes referred to as the Happy Garden, the Garden of Pleasance, or the Pleasant Garden, is a late Qing garden with a few notable attributes—perhaps the most appealing being the double-sided corridor with carved windows that divides the garden into east and west sections. The design of the garden also cleverly borrows many aspects of earlier Suzhou gardens.

      The eastern section, which one enters from the gate off busy Renmin Road, was a Ming residence. The western section, dating from the Qing Dynasty, is the main part of the garden and is entered at either...

      (pp. 81-88)

      The Couple’s Garden, sometimes referred to as Twin Garden or the Couple’s Retreat Garden, is situated on the eastern edge of the old city and is surrounded on three sides by canals with the high, white enclosing walls of the garden constructed directly atop the granite walls of the canals. The relationship of the garden to the canals here is perhaps the most potent in all the gardens of Suzhou.

      The garden is divided into eastern and western parts with the eastern half being the oldest and most distinguished part of the garden. The eastern half is directly adjacent to...

      (pp. 89-94)

      Yi Pu, the Garden of Cultivation—sometimes referred to as Art Orchard or the Herb Garden—is an important Ming Dynasty garden that has an illustrious family association. It boasts the largest quantity of Ming Dynasty relics of all the gardens in Suzhou.

      The garden is located down a narrow alley, Wenya Lane, named after an owner of the garden, Wen Zhenmeng, who was the great-grandson of Wen Zhengming, the famous Ming scholar who painted scenes of the Humble Administrator’s Garden. The Ming period is known for elegant, thin proportions in furniture, delicate paintings of garden scenes, and private gardens,...

      (pp. 95-100)

      The rockery at the Mountain Villa of Embracing Beauty is widely regarded as the finest in any Chinese garden. The rockery was built by Ge Yuliang (1764–1830), a master of the art of constructing artificial mountains during the reign of the emperor Qianlong. From the Lu Yuan Conghua (Miscellaneous Remarks on Lu Garden) by Qian Yun of the Qing Dynasty, we hear about the skill of Ge Yuliang: “Lately, there is a man named Ge Yuliang, a native of Changzhou, whose way of piling a rockery is even better than the others . . . and the rockery in...

      (pp. 101-107)

      The Mountain Villa of Embracing Emerald, sometimes called the Mountain Villa of Luxuriant Verdure, is located inside the Tiger Hill Pagoda complex northwest of the old city. Located on a steep slope, the garden exploits the liveliness of ascending a series of four terraced courtyards.

      As one crosses the Surging Waves Bridge and begins to ascend the slope of the Tiger Hill, a flight of steps just west of the main path leads to a black-framed gate and a small series of pavilions and courtyards. This is the Mountain Villa.

      Whereas the other gardens of Suzhou are situated in the...

      (pp. 108-110)

      The Crane Garden is a small Qing garden with a tortuous winding corridor that wraps around the eastern and northwestern perimeter of the garden.

      The garden is entered through the northeast corner of the entry hall, a five-bay hall with whitewashed walls that obscure immediate views into the garden. The corridor then winds up and down and in and out along the eastern side of the garden. Finely scaled spaces are created between the corridor and the high whitewashed eastern wall. During late afternoon, the low sun casts orange-tinted shadows of bamboo on the wall.

      The corridor connects to the...

      (pp. 111-112)

      Qu Yuan, also known as the Zigzag Garden or the Former Residence of Yu Yue (noted as such on the plaque at the door), is a modest garden distinguished by a pair of half pavilions that face each other across a deep rectangular pool. The long, narrow garden is enclosed by high white walls that compress the space but also deflect beautiful light into the garden. Its interest is that it is highly representative of modest gardens, few of which are accessible to visitors.

      Constructed in the late Qing Dynasty, the garden is most noted for the fame of its...

      (pp. 113-116)

      The Carefree Garden is the best of the very small gardens in Suzhou. The long, narrow space barely accommodates all the elements of the garden: pond, bridge, corridors, terrace, pavilions, halls, hills, rocks, trees, and shrubs.

      The garden, which lies east of the residence, is entered from the southeast and is best experienced as a counterclockwise circumnavigation of the pond: first along a covered corridor along the east wall, across a small terrace between a hall and the pond, through a hall on the west, and finally a corridor climbing atop a rockery in the southwest corner where a commanding...


      (pp. 119-123)

      The Garden of Retreat and Reflection, sometimes referred to as the Garden of Meditation, is located in the canal village of Tongli, about twenty kilometers southeast of Suzhou. Although it is the youngest garden included in the guide, built in 1885 during the last decades of the Qing Dynasty, it is renowned for the highly successful relationship between the pond and the surrounding buildings (see Pause and Observe).

      Ren Lansheng, a government official, built the garden and named it after a passage in the classical Chinese volume Zuozhuan, “working to dedicate myself to my country, and retreating to meditate on...

      (pp. 124-129)

      Jichang Yuan was visited and deeply admired by the Qing Emperors Kangxi and Qianlong which led to its great influence on imperial gardens in Beijing and the summer palace at Chengde. It is sometimes referred to as Qin Yuan 秦园 and is located in Wuxi, a large city on the banks of Tai Lake approximately sixty kilometers west of Suzhou.

      The garden is arranged around a long, slender lake surrounded by neighboring hills to the north and west. The reflection of the hills in the still water of the lake lends depth and expanse to the garden.

      Jichang Yuan...

      (pp. 130-139)

      The Garden of Peace and Comfort in Shanghai, eighty-five kilometers from Suzhou, is among the largest of the scholar gardens. The large yellow stone rockery and brick carving of the dragon walls and roof figures are exemplary.

      Yu Yuan, unlike most gardens where earthen hills and rockeries divide the landscape scenes, is compartmentalized into dozens of small “space-cells,” as Maggie Keswick refers to them, by tall white walls capped with black tiles.

      Pan En and his son, Pan Yunduan, began the garden during the Ming Dynasty reign of Emperor Jiajing (1559), when Shanghai was just a small coastal village. The...

      (pp. 140-146)

      Guyi Yuan is located in the village of Nanxiang approximately twenty-one kilometers north of Shanghai and is accessible via the municipal bus system or hired taxi. Among other attributes, the restaurant at the south gate of the garden is renowned for its xiaolongbao, and a visit to the garden would be incomplete without a lunch of these prized local dumplings.

      The garden was originally one-fifteenth of its current size, and the growth of the garden has transformed it into a landscape that seems more like a public park than a private garden. The remoteness of Guyi Yuan from tourist centers...

    (pp. 147-150)

    The following Suzhou gardens are not included in the expanded descriptions but visits may be made or arranged:

    Five Peaks Garden, Wufeng Yuan

    Kettle Garden, Hu Yuan

    Listening to Maples Garden, Tingfeng Yuan

    Northern Half Garden, Bei Ban Yuan

    Remnant Grain Garden, Canli Yuan

    Satisfying Garden, Ke Yuan

    Suzhou Museum, Suzhou Bowuguan

    The following gardens, parks, lakes, and residences would reward travel near Suzhou:...

    (pp. 163-164)
    (pp. 165-168)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 169-174)
    (pp. 175-175)