Sunday, February 15, 2009

The gardens of Suzhou.


H
igh on my list of things to see in China are the gardens of Suzhou ("Sue-joe"). Those of you who know me know my love for gardening. Nothing is more relaxing for me than a beautiful spring day spent grubbing in the dirt that is my own garden. To be able to stroll on the grounds of gardens that date back centuries is a pleasure I am looking forward to.

Suzhou is located in the center of the Yangtze Delta, in the south of Jiangsu Province, and lies a short distance west of Shanghai. Built in 514 BC, it is an ancient city that is world renown for its beautiful gardens. Nine of the gardens of Suzhou are listed on the World Heritage List, including the Humble Administrator's Garden, Master of the Nets Garden and the Lion Forest Garden.


The most famous of Suzhou's gardens is the Humble Administrators Garden. The garden was originally built in 1509 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It was initially a private garden of a former government servant named Wang Xianchen. It was said he intended to build a garden after his retirement so so he could plant trees and grow vegetables and lead the life of a humble man. Hence, the name of the garden. The garden was built upon the old relics of a residence and a temple. Water features dominate the landcsape which also small forests, hills and rock formations. The garden also has man-made pavilions, halls and parlors.

The Master of the Nets Garden is another masterpiece of Chinese landscaping and architecture. Among all the gardens in Suzhou, the Master of the Nets Garden is considered by Chinese garden connoisseurs to be the most "balanced" in terms of its use of water, rocks, plants, and timber.

The Master of the Nets Garden was first constructed in 1140 AD during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 – 1279) by a government official name Shi Zhengzhi. Then named the Fisherman’s Retreat, it was inspired by the simple and solitary life of a Chinese fisherman. The garden subsequently fell into disarray until six centuries later when it was restored by Song Zongyuan, a retired government official of the Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period (1735 – 1796). He drastically redesigned the garden, added multiple buildings, and renamed it the Master of the Nets.

Over the centuries, the garden continued to be modified as it changed ownership. Even so, it is supposedly remains true to the spirit and design esthetic of its original builder.

I also want to see if I can make it to the Lion Forest Garden which is the ancestral residence of the family of world renown architect I.M. Pei. I happen to work in a building that was designed by his firm and one of his most well known buildings is located in Washington, DC - the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. Located nearby the Lion Forest Garden is the Suzhou Museum which was also designed by I.M. Pei. If I make it to the garden, I will definitely try and make it to the museum.

And if I tire of the gardens, Suzhou is well known for its production of silk - would be very cool to visit a factory and see how they spin silk thread from the cocoons of the silk worm.

Much to see in Suzhou.....hope I have the time!