Located in Suzhou, often dubbed the ‘Venice of the east’, this is one of the four most respected gardens in China. In 2009 my grand-daughter, then aged 15, and I travelled on a 28 day tour of China. During that time we visited several of the more than 150 gardens where the style is quite specific to the culture of the country and speak to its history. The gardens reflect the importance of natural beauty with an appreciation of balance and harmony.
The Tour bus left Shanghai at 08:30, traveling through industrial areas where everything along the way is HUGE – power lines, blocks of high-rise accommodation and endless billboards. The never-ending traffic moves on a four-laned (in each direction) highway connecting the city of Suzhou to Shanghai … a highway where pedestrians, cyclists and pedicabs use the breakdown lane. After negotiating three toll gates with traffic as far as the eye could see both fore and aft, and a “Happy Room” stop, we arrived at Suzhou which has a population of 4.3 million people in the city proper. It has long been one of the wealthiest merchant cities. Now it is an electronics manufacturing centre and is a tourist highlight, particularly for its gardens.
“Suzhou is located in the south of Jiangsu province, some 50 miles west of Shanghai, along the old Grand Canal. The city has been famous for its gardens for many centuries. According to a Chinese proverb says: ‘In heaven there is paradise. On earth there are Suzhou and Hangzhou’. Suzhou has also long been noted for its beautiful women. The city is dotted with lakes and ponds connected by a spider’s web of canals. And all the canals are lined with whitewashed houses with gray-tiled roofs.”
The Humble Administrator’s Garden covers 13 acres. It was developed in 1131-1162 during the Shaoxing period and was a 29 year project for the family of Mr. Wang Xianchen. It was said that he intended to build a garden after he retired just to do some gardening work, like planting trees and vegetables there, which was said by him to be the life of a humble man – hence the name of the garden. This garden has been the site of the residence of Suzhou notables since the 2nd century. Its central section is a recreation of the scenery of the Lower Yangtze. Rising from the lake are the tree covered east and west hills, each crowned by a pavilion. There are 48 buildings and 21 precious old trees, including several crepe myrtles. It was a private garden and a place where the family lived. In 1949 it was one of many gardens that passed to the administration of the State. It is divided into pavilions for each of the four seasons – Spring BLOSSOM, Summer WATER, Autumn LOTUS and Winter SNOW (the roof is painted white). In 1997 it was inscribed on the World Heritage List. The massive Bonsai garden is a sight to behold – 355 years is the age of the oldest specimen.
The garden’s outstanding features are – meticulous design, luxuriant vegetation, lotus ponds, rock formations, bridges of all shapes and size, plants trained on wire frames, a bamboo avenue, bonsai and the amazing zigzagging cobbled pathways featuring artistic patterns. Each Pavilion has its own special name – The Celestial Spring, The Far Away Looking, The Keep and Listen, The Fragrant Isle, The Hall of Distant Fragrance and many more, each having its own special significance. Note that most flowers are grown in individual pots so that a garden can be transformed in a very short time frame as pots of spent flowers are removed and fresh new pots immediately put in place.
Follow today’s Guide as she leads us carrying her pink cupcake umbrella through the misty rain in this beautiful garden.
A masterpiece of meticulous work.