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Classifications of Chinese Garden

Classification by Geographical Location

Northern gardens are large and often have grand structures. Due to the northern climate, there aren't many water features or evergreen trees and the gardens are not as delicate compared to southern China. Beijing, Xi'an, Luoyang and Kaifeng, all found in the north of China, all boast beautiful gardens, with the gardens in Beijing a good representation of the northern style.

Jiangnan (south of the Yangtze River) gardens cover smaller areas than the ones in the north, but have a variety of waterscapes and evergreen trees. The scenery is delicate and cozy. Southern gardens are found in Nanjing, Shanghai, Wuxi, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Yangzhou, with the gardens in Suzhou considered to be the best examples. Southern gardens are artistic designs consisting of buildings, mountains, water and plant life. These gardens blend nature, architecture and painting into a unified whole.

Guangdong is in a subtropical zone so Cantonese gardens feature more waterscapes, vegetation, subtropical scenery and tall buildings.

Classification by Owner

Imperial gardens are large and grandiose and were built using natural mountains and waterways. The most famous ones include the Imperial Forest Garden built during the Han dynasty and in the Tang dynasty the Forbidden Garden in Xi'an. The current imperial gardens are Qing dynasty creations with Beihai Park, the Summer Palace and the Old Summer Palace in Beijing, as well as the Imperial Summer Villa in Chengde. These scenic gardens in China's different regions blend themes of gods and legends with anecdotes of well-known historical personalities. Particular attention was given to the connection of independent sceneries within the garden.

Private gardens were relatively small with small mountains and waterways. Most only measured one hectare and very few were larger than four or five hectares. Within such a confined space, particular attention was given to incorporating small buildings, manmade mountains and waterways, and to the placement of vegetation and decorations. The theme of the garden varied according to the taste of the owner; some reflected the owner's upright and outspoken character and others presented the owner's pursuit of a plain and simple life. The private gardens of Suzhou, Yangzhou and Nanjing are considered some of China's most distinguished, with Suzhou being home to the majority of them.

Temple gardens are attached to temples and were built in approximately the same manner as private gardens, but with a greater emphasis on tranquility. Temple gardens are an integral part of temple complex and influence the design of the overall temple, thus giving the temples a garden-like atmosphere.