Classical Gardens of Suzhou

“Jiangnan”, geographically meaning the south bank of the middle and lower reach of the Yangtze River, is the most beautiful word in China. Recorded in numerous Chinese literatures and art works, it is something tender, romantic, literary, poetic and picturesque. Suzhou is a city fully revealing the charm of Jiangnan, while Classical Gardens of Suzhou are the best model for analyzing time-honored Jiangnan.

Tracing back to the 11th century ago, Suzhou gardens reflect the deep focus on natural beauty. With meticulous design, they succeed in recreating natural landscape in miniature. Apart from scenery of “Mountain and Water”, the profound Chinese history and culture are also inlaid in the gardens. In the classical gardens of Suzhou, even the flowers, grasses, bricks and stones are telling the happiness, pity and sorrow in the long history. Being so remarkable, Classical Gardens of Suzhou are generally acknowledged as the great masterpieces in the world history of gardening and nine of them are listed in the World Cultural Heritages. Together with Tiger Hill, they make up top ten classical gardens of Suzhou worth your discovery.

Top Ten Classical Gardens of Suzhou

No. 1: Humble Administrator’s Garden – Archetype of Imperial Gardens

Humble Administrator’s Garden is the largest and most prestigious garden in Suzhou. With an area of 5.2 hectares, it is able to include magnificent halls, delicate pavilions, lush flowers, zigzagging bridges, bamboo groves and fragrant lotus ponds, from which you could admire the never-ending designs. Humble Administrators has over 20 owners (most of them are renowned officials), and each of them added their personal preference in the garden expanding, leaving Humble Administrator’s garden with scenes from soup to nuts. From different prospects, you will get different new view in your eyes. In the three parts of the whole garden, the Central Garden is the essence. Encompassing the highest numbers of buildings and the largest-scale lake, the central garden enjoys the most charming waterscape and artistical architecture.

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Humble Administrator’s Garden Humble Administrator’s Garden

No. 2: Lingering Garden – Poetic and Picturesque Garden

The beauty of the Lingering Garden can only be discovered patiently because the visitors will never fall love with it at the first sight of the small and humble gate. However, after you walk through the dark passageway, you will recognize how spectacular the garden is. The flawless dimensional distribution enables every inch of the ground to be taken advantage, but it will not be too crowded or to sporadic. Centering on the central pond, the Lingering Garden never fails to catch the eyes of tourists by the winding corridors, towering rockeries and well-designed halls. The elaborately-created perforated windows and unconventional doors both resemble “frame” of natural picture. With the most poetic and picturesque atmosphere, even one flower, one grass, one brick and one stone in the garden is spiritual.

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HLingering Garden Lingering Garden

No. 3: Tiger Hill –The First Sight in Suzhou

Great Chinese litterateur Su Shi (苏轼) once said that it would be a lifetime pit if you have been to Suzhou without a visit to the Tiger Hill. With a long history of over 2,500 years, the Tiger Hill is the symbol of ancient Suzhou. It is not a real garden but as beautiful as a garden. There is a lot of old legendaries spreading in the Tiger Hill which make it more mysterious. Tiger Hill Pagoda, a leaning pagoda is the most highlighted part which dates back to the year when Suzhou was founded and makes the Tiger Hill a must-see. Visiting the Tiger Hill and learning the ancient history, you will have an exciting and delightful journey. In addition, there are wonderful shows in the Artistic Flower Fair and Autumn Temple Fair. In these days, the hill will be decorated beautifully.

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Tiger Hill Tiger Hill

No. 4: Master of the Nets Garden – Perfect Garden in Pocket Size

Master of the Nets Garden is a pocket-sized garden in Suzhou. The feature of Suzhou Gardens of “recreating natural beauty in miniature” is nowhere better illustrated than the Master of the Nets Garden. On account of the ingenious design and the use of the space, the garden looks much larger than its authentic size. The compact layout never interferes with the splendor of the Master of the Nets Garden. In the Residential Area which is built according to the sumptuary regulation, the Gateway with Brick Carving enjoys cultural value. The Peony Study in the Main Garden is replicated at the Metropolitan Museum of New York. The central garden with impressive waterscape let tourists linger over. The Night Garden traditional art performance, like a paradise of lights and sounds gives you a new feeling by combing garden and Suzhou folk culture.

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Master of the Nets Garden Master of the Nets Garden

No. 5: Lion Grove Garden – Kingdom of Rockeries

Lion Grove Garden was first constructed in 1342 AD by the Buddhist Tianru (天如) to commemorate his master. Among the masses of classical gardens of Suzhou, the Lion Grove Garden stands out for the curiously shaped rockeries. The name of the garden stems from the 500 stones resembling lions in diverse postures, sitting, standing, sleeping, playing, roaring, dancing etc. Except that the rockeries themselves are interesting views, you can also have a delightful experience to go up to the peak to have a full sight and playing hide & seek with your little kids or friends. The Stone Boat and the Prunus Mume Tower must be the most creative buildings to savor new sights.

Lion Grove Garden

No. 6: Blue Wave Pavilion – Natural Beauty in Architecture

Located in the center of Lake, the Blue Wave Pavilion looks like a small island. As the oldest garden (second to Tiger Hill) in Suzhou, it also enjoys peaceful environment and acts as the best choice for getting away from the city crowd. The garden is encompassed by the double verandahs dotted several pavilions, and they connect the inside rockeries and outside waterscape harmoniously. The pavement without good-looking patterns looks low-key but tasty. The two-story Mountain-viewing Tower is really amazing. Climbing up to the tower from its flanked steps, you will have a good sight of the amusing path and green bamboo forest. After getting down and turning to the back of the building, you will be pleasantly surprised to find the stone house (like a cave) just under the tower.

Blue Wave Pavilion

No. 7: Couple Garden

Situated in the Xiaoxinqiao Lane of Pingjiang Road, the Couple Garden is surrounded by the river on its three sides. The whole garden contains the East Garden and West Garden which represent an affectionate couple living there in seclusion. Yellow Stone Rockeries in the East Garden is the theme of the Couple Garden. The imposing rockeries in the garden can be compared with the real mountains. Instead of building pavilions in the peak of rockeries, the wise gardeners grew a dozens of flowering plants, adding much nature fun to the artificial garden. The main architecture Chengqu Thatched Cottage is a majestic structure with double eaves, which is seldom to see in Suzhou gardens. Shuangzhao Pavilion is the best viewing deck of the whole garden.

Couple Garden

No. 8: Retreat& Reflection Garden

Retreat & Reflection Garden (Tuisi Garden in Chinse) perches in captivating Tongli Water Town. It was built by Ren Lansheng (任兰生) during 1885 and 1887, a dismissed government official. Ren Lansheng named it as Retreat & Reflection Garden to introspect himself. This charming garden features with the historical wooden buildings and fantastic waterscape hiding in the backyard garden. Half area of the elegant garden is covered with water and the nice buildings are built close to water so it seems that the buildings are floating on water. Going up to the Mianyuan Tower encircled by rockeries, you can clearly watching the lovely flowers and adorable fishes. Visit Retreat & Reflection Garden and you can appreciate alluring fragrance of the Osmanthus trees.

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HRetreat& Reflection Garden

No. 9: Garden of Cultivation

The Garden of Cultivation is a small-scale mountain and water garden with an aesthetic design of Ming Dynasty style. Unlike other gardens in Suzhou, most of the owners of this garden are learned and cultured schoolers who always sought a sequestered and artless life. Therefore, the Garden of Cultivation enjoys clear composition with elements of elegance and simplicity, never being stuck-up or gorgeous. In fact, it was virtually unknown before it was listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. Divided into the east section of residence and west garden section, the Garden of Cultivation has 13 pavilions, 17 tablets and 8 stelae. There are several pavilions around the main Lotus Pond, a rockery and a smaller enchanting garden.

Garden of Cultivation

No. 10: Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty

Occupying 2,000 square meters, Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty integrates the traditional art of buildings, garden, sculpture, literature and lime-carving together. There is no good scenery out the garden could be borrowed, so it is rather difficult to garden. However, the gardener place stress on piling rockery. The Lake Stone Rockery which displays every technique and effect used in Chinse gardens is referred as the treasure of rockeries. It is made by the rockery piling master Ge Yuliang (戈裕良), and fully demonstrates the unity and harmony of nature and human beings. Though rockery is the highlight, the water also creates a tuneful picture.

Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty

Suzhou Gardens Art

Rockery Piling

Only putting mountain and water in the garden could bring the reputation of “Natural Landscape in Miniature”. Rockeries (acting as mountain) are a key element in Classical Gardens of Suzhou. Taking the advantage of the local terrain, the rockeries are always set in the high-lying location. The gardeners paid special attention to pile the rockery. At first, the material rockery should be chosen carefully and the shape, lines, color, density etc. will be taken into consideration. Then, creating an artistic atmosphere is a must. The rockeries in different location of different garden will give different feelings. Some are magnificent, just resembling grand architectures. Some are delicate, shaping liking lively animals. Some are interesting, and you could get through it or climb to the peak to have a great view of the garden.

Rockery Piling

Water Streamlining

If the rockery is the bone of Suzhou gardens, the water is the blood. There is no landscape or garden without water and water always makes a garden alive. The water is streamlined according to the local condition as well. Suzhou enjoys an exceptionally good location with rich resource, making streamlining water easily. There are multiple means to streamline water and different form of water can be shaped, like pool, spring, waterfall, lake, ravine... The still lake likes a mirror with the reflection of rockeries, buildings and plants. The flying waterfall likes a curtain which cannot be clipped.

Water Streamlining

Architecture Designing

Architectures in Suzhou gardens play a dual role in daily living and viewing landscape. As a general rule, the architecture coverage reaches to 30% in the small gardens while the architecture coverage is about 15% in bigger gardens. Based on the size and different function of the different gardens, the artistic disposal and right combinations are also quite various. Some halls for listening to musical or receiving guests are always built magnificent and decorated meticulously. Some pavilions for viewing waterscape or rockeries are always constructed in open areas and equipped with doors to four directions. Architectures are also extremely helpful for landscaping, and large amounts of skills of landscaping like borrowing scenery, hiding scenery, leaking scenery, framing scenery, separating scenery, preluding scenery... are made by architectures.

Architecture Designing

Plant Growing

Plant Growing is also an important art form while building Suzhou Gardens. With the change of space, the plants are grown in different style. The locations of the plants always match with the surrounding environment. The single bonsai flower or small tree is usually put in small pace or in the precipice of the rockeries. Some yards are grown with one particular sort of plants, which shows the feature of “nature”. In the open area, the flowers, trees and grasses are grown together with hierarchical undulation. The plants can be grown in the flowerpot, parterre or flower-stand. In short, the landscape will never be monotonous.

Plant Growing

Featured Decoration in Suzhou Gardens

Perforated Windows

Perforated windows (漏窗) are the ornamental windows with perforation inlaid in the walls and doors. The multitudinous perforated windows make Suzhou Gardens so unique. A perforated window is not only a functional device for ventilating and daylighting, but also acts as picture frames by which to capture vistas beyond unexpectedly. What’s more, you could feel the “movement of steps and shift of scenes” by viewing the scenery through the windows. In Suzhou gardens, visitors could feast on the most exquisite and variegated perforated windows, especially in the Lingering Garden and the Blue Wave Pavilion.

Perforated Windows

Colored Pavement

Most paths in the classical gardens of Suzhou are paved with gravels, cobblestones, crocks and broken ceramics, like carpet embroidered with delicate design. As a walking road, it functions in anti-skidding, space-diving and environment-beautifying. However, more than a road, the pavement is not exaggerated to say that the pavement is an artwork for admiring. Drawing waste materials from nature, the pavement lays emphasis on the harmony of color, and the main cooler colors are the main color. For the style, it seeks for the uniqueness. Different patterns are inset in the pavement make the walk easy and interesting. The deep Chinse culture is also described in the patterns. For example, the red-crowned crane stands for longevity, bat represents good fortune, and the calabash means luck and wealth.

Colored Pavement

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Classical Gardens of Suzhou Map

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