Suzhou: Home of the Chinese Garden

Before making my trip to China, a friend who had been there said that the only city she wanted to go back to was Suzhou. I saw her point. With it’s charming alleyways and winding canals, Suzhou is sometimes known as the Venice of the East. But it’s main claim to fame, are the classical Chinese Gardens, which have earned recognition as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Anyone setting foot in a Chinese Garden will be greeted by a sense of tranquility. This is by design. Surely an immense amount of work goes into creating and maintaining a Chinese Garden, by the idea is to evoke thoughts of nature. The Garden is a microcosm of the universe, with all the natural elements laid out in such a way as to provide charming scenes from various viewpoints. Understanding the elements of Chinese Garden will add to one’s appreciation:

Elements of a Chinese Garden

Water World
The bulk of a Chinese Garden, may not seem like a garden at all by Western standards. Large water features, usually a lake or pool, dominate these gardens. The water serves multiple purposes. It is symbolic of the feminine principle (yin) and of nature in general. It’s horizontal surface serves as a contrast to the tall plants and vertically placed rocks. And the reflective surface adds light and a sense of dimension.

Chinese Garden in Suzhou

Chinese Garden in Suzhou

Chinese Gardens Rock!
If I had a dollar for every rock I’ve pulled out of my garden…But in a Chinese Garden, rock and stone are considered the to be two of the required elements.  Rock and stone. What’s the difference? In the case of a Chinese Garden, rocks are placed vertically, like mini monoliths meant to be reminiscent of the dramatic cliffs which are so iconic in Chinese imagery. Stone, on the other hand, refers to those little things on the ground. The gardens in Suzhou boast intricate stone mosaics.

Stone is one of the basic elements of a Chinese Garden.

Stone is one of the basic elements of a Chinese Garden.

Of course, no garden is a garden, without plants. Chinese gardens include a variety of plant life, carefully mixed and matched both for their visual qualities, as well as for their symbolic ones. The Scotch Pine represents longevity, the magnolia wealth, and bamboo flexibility. Clumps of flowering perennials reward the viewer for wondering into a particular corner. Water plants decorate the pools. What you will not see here plantwise is lawn. Nor shrubs planted in straight lines and neat rows. Nature abhors a straight line.

The Human Element
Chinese gardens also include elements of architecture. Most are walled and have foot bridges over the water. Small pavilions are designed as resting places from which one can enjoy a particular view and contemplate nature.


Published in China

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Seasoned traveler, avid reader, over-eater, clumsy but determined hiker and wannabe Spanish-speaker.

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