The Gardens of Suzhou

The Gardens of Suzhou

The Gardens of Suzhou

The Gardens of Suzhou


Suzhou, near Shanghai, is among the great garden cities of the world. The city's masterpieces of classical Chinese garden design, built from the eleventh through the nineteenth centuries, attract thousands of visitors each year and continue to influence international design. In The Gardens of Suzhou, landscape architect and scholar Ron Henderson guides visitors through seventeen of these gardens. The book explores UNESCO world cultural heritage sites such as the Master of the Nets Garden, Humble Administrator's Garden, Lingering Garden, and Garden of the Peaceful Mind, as well as other lesser-known but equally significant gardens in the Suzhou region.

Unlike the acclaimed religious and imperial gardens found elsewhere in Asia, Suzhou's gardens were designed by scholars and intellectuals to be domestic spaces that drew upon China's rich visual and literary tradition, embedding cultural references within the landscapes. The elements of the gardens confront the visitor: rocks, trees, and walls are pushed into the foreground to compress and compact space, as if great hands had gathered a mountainous territory of rocky cliffs, forests, and streams, then squeezed it tightly until the entire region would fit into a small city garden.

Henderson's commentary opens Suzhou's gardens, with their literary and musical references, to non-Chinese visitors. Drawing on years of intimate experience and study, he combines the history and spatial organization of each garden with personal insights into their rockeries, architecture, plants, and waters. Fully illustrated with newly drawn plans, maps, and original photographs, The Gardens of Suzhou invites visitors, researchers, and designers to pause and observe astonishing works from one of the world's greatest garden design traditions.


A friend once remarked that I was fortunate that I cannot read the Chinese language (apart from a few characters) when I visit the gardens of Suzhou. He said when he walks through the gardens, the preponderance of text continually tells him what he is supposed to see and experience. He envied my ability to walk through the spaces and understand them only for their proportion, material qualities, and spatial sequences because I could not understand the written inscriptions.

In this spirit, I have not included the name of every pavilion or scenic spot in the gardens. That information is available in more extensive texts in English, but it is cumbersome and distracting to read all the names and scenes in the garden and there is not space here to do justice to their derivation and scholarly allusions. Therefore, I mention the names of structures and scenes selectively.

Perhaps this is also my own way to shift the scholarship of these gardens away from their well-documented literary associations and symbolism toward an understanding based on their visual proportions, physical presence, spatial qualities, experiential sequences—and even their urban ecology—in an effort to extend their influence to the contemporary discourse on gardens and landscapes.

The gardens and their street addresses are listed with their names written in Chinese characters, with their Hanyu-Pinyin spelling, and with an . . .

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