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Features of Chinese Gardens

Features of Chinese Gardens

Although Chinese gardens vary greatly in design, each garden has its own particular features, with some garden features more common than others.

The pursuit of beauty in Chinese gardens is closely connected with poetry and painting. The artistic creation of gardens and paintings are interlinked, with both "in pursuit of poetic meaning," an attempt to recreate a poem or painting in a garden setting. Such characteristics are expressed in the design of the mountains and water. The architectural designs of gardens are very detailed and each garden has its own thematic content, most of which are taken from well-known poems and have layouts based on landscape paintings. In general, gardens aim for harmonisation of space and natural scenery.

Gardens express the designer's emotion and are designed to capture the vistors' imagination. An artistic expression of emotion is a basic theme in art. Since gardens are a re-creation of nature in an artificial setting, the process of creating a garden requires imagination and innovation. Firstly, water and mountains are created using stones and ditches, with this combination offering a striking effect. Secondly, choosing an auspicious name is an important part of creating associations with the garden and nature. Names are inscribed on stone tablets, gatepost couplets and door boards. These two measures help create a picture for the visitor and set the mood for the garden.

Creating a sense of space within a limited area is important, especially in small private gardens. In order to add to the scenery, designers construct mountains, waterways, plant trees and flowers and breed fish. Fixed scenes are given varied views and perspectives by using contrast, offsetting the point of view and by using winding paths. Some methods include making the river banks curved with irregular stones, planting flowers and trees according to different seasons, varying the length of corridors and using decorative windows and gates. A careful observer will notice in a Suzhou garden that if there's a window facing a white wall, there will also be rockery or vegetation within the frame. The design is meant to create a sense of exploration; the scenes aren't in the open and offer different impressions from different angles.

Gardens borrow and use scenery of nearby surroundings. Chinese gardens emphasise the arrangement of different scenes from inside and outside the garden. For example, in the Ge Garden in Yangzhou, there's the Summer Mountain, which is topped with a pavilion. From this pavilion the scenery of the Slender West Lake can be seen in the distance. In Wuxi, the Jichang Garden borrows the pagoda in Xi Shan as a backdrop to set the scene in the garden.

The design and landscaping of Chinese gardens has evolved into an independent technique in its own right and always includes four essential features.

Mountain Scenery
Mountains are the foremost feature in forming garden scenery. During the reign of Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty, labourers shaped a small island from soil they dug out while repairing a pond. This island was an early example of artificial mountains. Later, garden designers, instead of merely duplicating the size of mountains, stressed the importance of details, so artificial mountains closely resembled their counterparts. From the Tang and Song dynasties and with the development of landscape painting, landscape gardeners began paying greater attention to construction techniques.

Water Scenery
Waterways are one of the most important scenic features of a garden. Waterscapes in a garden can be static lakes or dynamic waterfalls. There are three ways to construct artificial water scenery:

Covering the water bank with thick growth of grass and constructing buildings on the shore. Architectural constructions are usually erected above the water in order to create a sense of flowing water from the base of the structure. Plants and grass along the water will give it an appearance of tranquility and stillness.

Partitions such as stone bridges, corridors or large stones placed in the water allow visitors to cross the waterway and give the space above the flat water a compartmentalized layered effect.

If the area that water occupies is very small, a winding path along the shore that's decorated with irregularly shaped stones or planted vegetation help to create a spatially open feeling. Fish and water plants in the water also add to the scenic beauty.


Animals and Plants
In order to make the water and mountains look natural, it's necessary to control the shapes, colours and fragrance. Landscape gardeners often prefer red maples, green bamboo, colourful roses and white magnolias, all of which serve as a visual and olfactory ornament in all seasons. The symbolic meaning of each plant is also carefully considered. For example, bamboo is the symbol of uprightness, pine is a symbol of strength and longevity, the lotus is associated with purity and the peony with wealth and rank. Designers use these plants as another method to get across their artistic intention.

Classical Chinese gardens attach considerable importance to animals within the garden. Animals such as goldfish, mandarin ducks, white cranes and parrots provide amusement as well as serving as symbols of longevity. Animals allow visitors to feel as if they're in the midst of a truly natural environment.