Who wouldn’t love a garden that has a pavilion named “Moon Comes with Breeze”? Or the “Watching Pines and Appreciating Paintings Studio” where you go to watch evergreen trees during the wintry season. The garden’s oldest and tallest tree is here, a Sabina chinensis that is said to be a survivor from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279); the top of the tree is withered but foliage is growing from branches in the middle of its truck. There is a Confucius saying that is posted by it: “Only in the dead of winter is the point brought home that pines and cypresses are the last to lose their leaves.” It kind of makes you want to come back as a cypress in your next life!
The view from The Five Peaks’ Library looks out on rockeries that resemble the peaks of Mt. Lu. There is a music room that fronts a chain of “mountains” made from Lake Tai limestone that is artfully piled up against the whitewashed wall. The meditation study is the place “to cultivate the mind and to attain a state of absolute blessedness and serenity free from secular concerns”.
The Room of Ascending to the Clouds is based on the story of Zhou Sheng who rose up to the clouds by a piece of magic string and brought the moon down to the earth. The rockeries in front of it are piled up in a way to look like the limestone mountains found in traditional Chinese landscape paintings.
This is one of the four gardens of Suzhou, China that are UNESCO world heritage sites and it is considered to be one of the finest gardens in China. It is particularly unique because of its relatively small size (6,500 sq. m) and exquisite buildings. It is sometimes referred to as the “Perfect Small-sized Garden”.
The eastern part of the property contains the dwellings, the central part the main garden, and the western part is the inner garden. There is a large central pond around which several of the pavilions are situated. Small buildings are set on rocks or piers directly over the water surface while the taller buildings are further back and somewhat hidden by rocks and trees and the end result is that the lake seems much larger than it actually is.
What is particularly outstanding about this garden is the use of foil and borrowed scenery. Rooms have ornate windows looking onto the gardens, there are several Moon Gates to suggest what lies beyond, rockeries obscure the paths and paths are everywhere.
The garden was first constructed in 1140 and over the years it evolved depending on its owner. There was a government official who in retirement wanted the simple life of a fisherman and so gave it its name; a scholar who was well versed in the classics and added buildings and arranged stones; a master calligrapher who inscribed many of the stone slabs found in the garden.
There are signs, in English, throughout the garden providing these explanations. The garden has become particularly well know for its peonies and some were in bloom when I was there. I wouldn’t miss the colour that the flowers provide, however, for strolling through this garden is like reading a fine poem and you don’t need colour for that.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2012