|Garden of the Master of Nets, Suzhou, China|
In China, I toured the classical gardens of Suzhou. For generations, great respect was given to pensioners, especially former government officials, who build exquisite gardens where they wrote poetry and studied arts such as calligraphy. In Suzhou, you can visit several of the finest surviving traditional Chinese gardens.
The Garden of the Master of Nets is probably my favorite, and it is regarded as among the very best. It is not very large. Land has been at a premium in China for hundreds of years. Part of the art of the traditional garden was to make a small area seem large and interesting. Corners and walls were arranged so that, seen from a different angle, the same spot looked quite different.
A traditional garden was a place for sitting and thinking, for reading, for doing fine calligraphy, for dining with friends, so there are rooms set around it to enhance the experience. The rooms (halls) are integral to the enjoyment of a traditional garden. Doubtless those gentlemen would find my garden bleak, because it has paths but no halls.
Suzhou has a mild climate but plenty of rain. We came on a rainy day. It is a different look than on a sunny day, but one the Chinese found equally beautiful.
Windows were used to frame harmonious combinations of plants and rocks. The framing makes them feel like paintings.
The center of the garden included a pond. Plants were framed or reflected in the water. You could sit and watch the golden koi in the pond. Birds fluttered among the leaves.
Suzhou was an important city when Shanghai was a sleepy undistinguished port. Today, virtually every tour of China goes to Shanghai, but only some include Suzhou. On today's very good roads, Suzhou is about an hour from Shanghai, so travel time is a function of traffic. The gardens make an outstanding day trip from Shanghai but, liking plants and gardens as I do, I'd recommend an overnight in Suzhou to savor the gardens.
Comments and corrections welcome.
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