Chinese Garden Design

 

Classical Chinese garden design took 3,000 years to evolve. Vast gardens, such as those of Emperors and the nobility, were built to impress. As in Japanese garden design, a garden was a miniaturized, idealized landscape meant to express harmony between nature and man.

 

A typical Chinese garden is enclosed by walls, and landscaping includes one or more ponds, rock outcrops, trees and flowers, and an assortment of halls and pavilions within the garden, connected by winding paths and covered, zig-zag, galleries.

 

By moving from structure to structure, visitors can view a series of carefully composed vignettes, like a film of slow motion landscape watercolours.
 

DesignMyGarden's design with Chinese and Japanese influences for a Toronto client.

See our garden design with Chinese and Japanese influences for a Toronto client

The Yu (Yuyuan) Garden in Shanghai, China, dates to 1559. It sits on 2 hectares (5 acres) of land and is divided into 6 areas.

The Yu (Yuyuan) Garden in Shanghai, China, dates to 1559. It sits on 2 hectares (5 acres) of land and is divided into 6 areas.  CREDIT: Brandon Fick

A tree peony, a symbol of opulence, is the most prized flower in Chinese garden design.

The most prized flower in a Chinese garden is the tree peony, a symbol of opulence.

Aerial view of the Suzhou Gardens in Jiangsu province, China, showing the number of pavilions in a classical Chinese garden.

Aerial view of the Suzhou Gardens in Jiangsu province, China, showing the number of pavilions in a classical Chinese garden.

 

Key elements of Chinese garden design:

 

Architecture - Chinese gardens are filled with architecture: halls, pavilions, temples, galleries, bridges, kiosks, and towers occupy a large part of the space.  

In fact, classical Chinese garden design calls for six specific types of structures:  1) the ceremony hall (ting or tang); 2) the principal pavilion (dating), for the reception of guests, for banquets and for celebrating holidays, such as New Year’s and the Festival of Lanterns; 3) the pavilion of flowers (huating); 4) the pavilion facing the four directions (simian ting); 5) the lotus pavilion (hehua ting); and 6) the pavilion of mandarin ducks (yuanyang ting).

 

Bridges are also a popular feature in Chinese garden design, allowing visitors to admire fish in ponds and to go from one pavilion to another.

Galleries, narrow covered corridors which connect the buildings and protect the visitors from the rain and sun, also help divide the garden landscaping into different sections. Typically, galleries serpentine or zigzag through the garden offering different vistas.

 

Windows and doors are important architectural features of the Chinese garden. They frame important vistas in the garden, like a prized tree. Windows and doors can be round (moon windows or moon gates) or oval, hexagonal or octagonal.

 

Controlled vistas – Like a Japanese garden, landscaping in a Chinese garden is meant to be seen through a series of controlled vistas. It is not meant to be seen all at once.

 

Symbolism – There is an entire iconography for Chinese plants in landscaping, where each tree and flower has its own meaning. The pine tree represents longevity, tenacity and constancy in friendship. Bamboo represents a wise, modest man seeking knowledge. The flowering plum represents rebirth of Spring after Winter. The peach tree represents long life and immortality; the pear, wisdom and justice. The pomegranate tree symbolizes fertility. The most prized flower in a Chinese garden is the peony, a symbol of opulence.

 

A moon gate frames a prized bonsai pine at the Yu Garden, Suzhou, China CREDIT: Gisling

The moon gate frames an old bonsai pine at the Suzhou Garden in Jiangsu province, China. CREDIT: Gilsig

Yuan Ye, or The Craft of Gardens, was written by Ji Cheng between 1631 and 1634. This is quite possibly the first garden design manual in the Chinese tradition. He emphasized that a successful garden was based on nature and features of the landscape. Certain passages were very poetic. 

Totally unlike western garden manuals, it gave no advice on how to grow anything and never mentioned any plant by name. It did prescribe which types of buildings and architectural styles as well as what kinds of rocks were suitable, indeed, should be found in a Chinese garden. Yuan Ye was in fact an arbiter of garden design taste: what architectural elements were elegant and which were vulgar. 

The book fell into obscurity for 300 years because the preface of the book was written by Ji Cheng's patron who got caught up in political machinations during the Ming Dynasty. Everything the patron wrote was scrubbed from history by his enemies. 

 

Then, the book was rediscovered by Japanese scholars and reprinted in China in 1931. 

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