Elements of a Classical Chinese Garden

 

To enter a Classical Chinese garden is to step into a world profoundly different from our own; a place where the very notion of "garden" is transformed.

Even the most seemingly insignificant feature has been deliberately chosen and placed not only for artistic effect but for its symbolic importance. The Chinese term for landscape, "shan shui" means "mountains and water" and no garden is without a lake or pool. This body of water, no matter how small, is its spiritual heart. Rocks, especially the fantastically eroded Taihu rocks of Suzhou, are placed in groupings that suggest the rugged cliffs and soaring peaks of the great mountains that have fascinated Chinese painters and poets for millennia. The lithe grace and flexibility of bamboo serve as reminders of qualities valued in human beings.

A pavilion, or "ting", is an essential component of a Chinese garden . . . the resting place from which to contemplate nature. It is here that one can begin to appreciate the fact that the various views are as much a part of the whole garden as any solid object.

Despite the artifice used in designing them, the most admired gardens evoke the natural world. There are no manicured lawns or topiary shrubs in the classical urban gardens of Suzhou. The garden is experienced as a series of vignettes, each new vantage point offering fresh visual surprises.

The visitor cannot help but perceive a sense of timelessness.