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What are Chinese Gardens?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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Chinese gardens are gardens which are designed in the Classical Chinese style. Some of the most notable Chinese gardens can be found in the Chinese city of Suzhou, also known as the Garden City thanks to its proliferation of gardens large and small. Outside of China, some public botanic gardens are designed in the Chinese style, and people can also evoke Chinese aesthetics in their private gardens.

In Classical China, gardening was an art form which was taken very seriously, and gardening could be compared to poetry, painting, and musical composition. Gardens had to be very carefully designed and composed in accordance with aesthetic and cultural traditions. Chinese gardens appear to have emerged among the scholarly classes, which is why they are sometimes known as Scholar's Gardens, and they spread to other people in Chinese society, with the most elaborate gardens being found in the walled compounds of the upper classes and imperial elite.

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Chinese gardens are not just about plants. They also include rocks and carefully placed sculptural elements. Most have at least one water feature, with water being a very important part of the aesthetics of the garden, and the surrounding structures are integrated into the design of the garden, whether they take the form of walkways over the water or homes. All of the elements of the garden are supposed to exist in harmony, complementing each other and encouraging people to contemplate nature and philosophical topics during their time in the garden. The seasonal changes in the garden are also carefully marked.

The layout of a Chinese garden must follow the principles of feng shui, with the site being chosen very carefully and the elements of the garden arranged in a way which will complement the site. Chinese gardens are classically enclosed and composed of many sections, with asymmetry in the garden being particularly prized. The choice of plants is also deliberate; beyond being interested in which plants will thrive in the climate, gardeners are concerned about the symbolic meanings of different plants, and the symbolic implications of arranging plants in particular ways.

Some modern Chinese gardens incorporate more Western aesthetics, such as Chinese rose gardens which feature predominantly roses, laid out in accordance with Chinese aesthetics. Specimen gardens such as Chinese bamboo gardens featuring numerous bamboo cultivars can also be viewed.

Aesthetic demands in Chinese and Japanese gardens are often very similar, because these two cultures share a number of values. However, they are definitely distinct, and mingling elements of both could create a visual presentation which is jarring to people who are culturally knowledgeable.

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