Step into serenity
The elegant gardens of Suzhou are celebrated the world over.
Suzhou in Jiangsu Province is a pilgrimage site for lovers of gardens, especially the sublime Chinese kind. The city has more than 50 classical gardens, nine of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The oldest date back to the eleventh century, but the peak era for Chinese horticulture was the eighteenth century. Classical Chinese gardens recreate natural landscapes in miniature, often designed around the four elements: plants stand for life, water for wealth and wisdom, rocks for energy, and buildings for home and family.
Highlights of downtown Suzhou include a lush sanctuary from the Ming era, the Humble Administrator’s Garden, where travellers and locals alike can escape the modern world and enjoy the exquisite skill of ancient gardeners. In the cool shade of blossoming trees, visitors can let body and mind rest and rejoice in peace and quiet by the lotus ponds.
The first owner of the Humble Administrator’s Garden was an official named Wang Xianchen, who had the garden built in 1509. The “humbleness” refers to his respect for wisdom and education, which is visible in many details. Each plant symbolises wisdom in some way: For example, the hollow bamboo represents an empty mind that needs to be educated.
A good time to visit is early morning, when you can find a secluded spot to take in the splendour of the pavilions, rock gardens, and lakes. With any luck, you’ll spot 85-year-old Mao Ye Yong, who spends hours in the garden every day with his radio and tea thermos. He claims the garden is to be thanked for his long life and vigour – along with his daily routine of a hearty breakfast and a five-course lunch.
Text and photos Ulrica Haglund