The Gardens of Suzhou

9780812222142: Paperback
Release Date: 25th December 2012

111 illus.

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 192

Series Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture

University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.

The Gardens of Suzhou

Walk with landscape architect and scholar Ron Henderson through seventeen of Suzhou's classical Chinese garden masterpieces. This insightful guide is fully illustrated with newly drawn plans, maps, and original photographs.

Paperback / £26.99

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.

Visiting the Gardens
Map of Suzhou

Architecture in the Gardens of Suzhou

Humble Administrator's Garden (Zhuozheng Yuan)
Lingering Garden (Liu Yuan)
Lion Grove (Shizilin)
Surging Wave Pavilion (Canglang Ting)
Master of the Nets Garden (Wangshi Yuan)
Garden of Harmony (Yi Yuan)
The Couple's Garden (Ou Yuan)
The Garden of Cultivation (Yi Pu)
The Mountain Villa of Embracing Beauty (Huanxiu Shanzhuang)
The Mountain Villa of Embracing Emerald (Yongcui Shanzhuang)
Crane Garden (He Yuan)
Zigzag Garden (Qu Yuan)
Carefree Garden (Chang Yuan)

Garden of Retreat and Reflection (Tuisi Yuan), Tongli
Garden of the Peaceful Mind (Jichang Yuan), Wuxi
Garden of Peace and Comfort (Yu Yuan), Shanghai
Garden of Ancient Splendor (Guyi Yuan), Nanxiang

Other Gardens in Suzhou and Region

Comparative Plans
Plants in the Gardens of Suzhou
Stone in the Gardens of Suzhou

Suggested Readings


A friend once remarked that I was fortunate to be unable to read the Chinese language (apart from a few characters) when I visited 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 English translation. Fees for entrance into the gardens vary among sites and are subject to change so they have not been listed in this guide.

Translations are complicated by the nuanced meaning often embedded in the names of gardens, pavilions, and places in the gardens; I have provided the most commonly used names. For instance, the Zhuozheng Yuan, the Humble Administrator's Garden, may also be translated as the Garden of the Unsuccessful Politician.

All Chinese names are written in the traditional manner with the family name first.

Dates in Imperial China are designated by the year of reign of the emperor (e.g., twelfth year of the Emperor Qianlong). For convenience, dates are also provided in b.c.e. and c.e. years.

The garden plans are based upon the authoritative plans in Liu Dunzhen, Chinese Classical Gardens of Suzhou. My research assistants at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island School of Design, Tsinghua University, and The Pennsylvania State University drew the plans of the gardens, provided translations, and contributed in many ways: Frank Wierschalak, David Guiliano, Ryan Duval, Peter Bartash, Vivien Sin, Wu Kun, Elizabeth Hindman-Harvey, Demetrios Staurinos, Zhang Jingni, Xu Xiaoqing, Hsu Tingyun, Li Qiwen, Xu Xiaonan, Yang Xi, Mo Shan, Ni Xiaoyi, Zach Jones, and Lacey Goldberg.

All photographs are by the author except where noted.

Ron Henderson is founder of L+A Landscape Architecture and Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects. He is also Professor of Landscape Architecture and Asian Studies at Pennsylvania State University and former Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Tsinghua University, China.

"Henderson, a talented landscape architect and designer himself, offers a helpful representation and unique tour of this collection of some of China's most famous gardens. . . . He sees the gardens afresh and leads one through, pointing out what is special, what is ordinary, separating the generic from the unique, the lighthearted from the grand. He is sensitive to their subtlety, nuance, wit, seasonality, perfume, sounds, twists and turns, drawing out aspects of their poetic nature. . . . I would love to be in Suzhou on a cool spring day and to set out in the morning with this guide in my pack. . . . to visit these places, to sit in them sipping tea while reading his thoughtful observations and wry comments, turning to his directions for the next path or garden. In this [book] are wisdom, perception, and genuine guidance."—Laurie Olin, University of Pennsylvania