Suzhou is famous for its gardens, boasting famous gardens in both quantity and artistry. Hence, it is called “the city of gardens”. Of course, Suzhou has a long history about its art of gardening. It’s reported that there were once more than 200 gardens in the city, and now 69 of them are still well kept, such as Zhuozheng (Humble Administrator’s) Garden, Liuyuan (Lingering) Garden, Wangshi (Master of Nets) Garden and Huanxiu (Embracing Beauty) Mountain Villa. They are representative of the Ming-and Qing-dynasty landscape architecture in areas south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. In fact, it was the perfection of the designs and workmanship of these gardens that influenced landscaping throughout the region.
Suzhou Gardens are composed of hills, waters, flowers, trees, pavilions, terraces, towns and halls. They have their own characteristics in layout, structure, and style. The Four Classical Gardens of Suzhou, namely, the Surging Waves Pavilion, the Lion Grove Garden, the Humble Administrator’s Garden and the Lingering Garden, respectively represent the different styles of Song Dynasty (960-1279), Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
Surging Waves Pavilion
The Surging Waves Pavilion also named Canglang Pavilion, which located in south of Suzhou City. It is the oldest garden among the existing classical gardens of Suzhou. The area used to be the private garden of a Prince of the Five Dynasties (907-960). During the Northern Song Dynasty, the scholar Su Zimei built a pavilion in the garden and named it Canglang Pavilion.
The Lion Grove Garden
It located in the northeast part of Suzhou City, which is the representative of gardens of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). It was first built in 1350 by Monk Tianru and his disciples, as a memorial to their master, Monk Zhongfeng. Because there were a lot of rocks in the garden resembling lions, the garden was thus named as the Lion Grove. With an area of 10,000 square meters, the Lion Grove Garden has reputed as the "Kingdom of Rockery" for a long time.
The Lingering Garden
With an area of 30 mu (2 hectares) and situated outside the Cang Gate of Suzhou City, the Lingering Garden was originally the East Garden of Xu Shiqin in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Later it became the property of Liu Rongfeng of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and was renamed Haibi Villa, popularly known as "Liu Garden". In the 12th year (1873) of the reign of Tongzhi, it was purchased, expanded and overhauled by the new owner, Sheng famlily, who renamed it "the Lingering Garden".
It was said that Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty once visited this garden and wrote an inscription “Zhengqu” (True Delight) to describe the beauty of the garden. Now, the inscription is still hung on the True Delight Pavilion. On both side of those long corridors, there are 67 pieces of calligraphy works made by famous Chinese calligraphers carving on the walls.
Today, when you enter its pond, you will find that the garden is dived into four parts. To the south of the pond are groupings of garden courts and elegant buildings, such as Mingse Buidling; to the north are rockeries and pavilions; to the west are rockeries with a long corridor zigzagging to all parts of the garden; and to the east are zigzag corridors and Guanyun Courtyard which is best famous for its 6.6-meter-high and 5-ton-weighty Guanyun Peak, the only complete Taihu Lake limestone and the biggest among the rockworks in Suzhou gardens.
Nowadays, the influence of the Suzhou gardens’ design has even traveled across oceans. Ming Hall Garden, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, is a copy of a section of the Master of Nets Garden. The design of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden in Vancouver, Canada, was based on the Ming Dynasty Suzhou garden style.
To sum up, the Suzhou Gardens have experienced many ups and downs, and gradually reached a state of artistic perfection. The sublimities of the gardens will endure forever.