Historical Suzhou in China, is home to nine classical gardens that are regarded as the finest embodiments of Chinese “Mountain and Water” gardens, for which it is acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage site. These gardens lend insight into how ancient Chinese intellectuals harmonized concepts of aestheticism within an urban living environment. The most spectacular among these is the Master of the Nets Garden (网师园), which demonstrates Chinese garden designers’ adept skills for synthesizing art, nature, and architecture. “Master of the Nets” refers to the simple and solitary life of a Chinese fisherman, which is extolled in Chinese literature.
A typical Qing style garden, the Master of the Nets was originally ordered to be built in the year of 1174 by the Southern Song Dynasty Deputy of Civil Service, Shi Zhengzhi. At that time it was named “Ten-thousand of scrolls Hall”. Over a period of 500 years from Song dynasty to Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, the hosts of this garden were changed repeatedly, with it falling into disrepair. In 1785 it was restored by Song Zongyuan, a retired government official of the Qing Dynasty. He drastically redesigned the garden and added multiple buildings, but retained the spirit of the site. He often referred to himself as a fisherman and renamed it the Master of the Nets Garden. The garden was developed further by subsequent owners, however in 1958 the garden finally was bequeathed to the Suzhou government.
The garden covers 5,400 square meters and is divided into East and West sections. The Eastern part consists of four halls, one tower and three courtyards, which are used for residential or administrative purposes. The Western section is the main garden area, with an ensemble of small buildings around the Rosy Cloud Pool. The iconic pool covers 334 square meters and is a centre piece for the gardens. The two other dominant elements of the overall composition are the Barrier of Cloud grotto, a cypress tree dating from the Ming Dynasty, and pine trees that are several centuries old. Throughout, plants and rocks are used to create miniature views which represent the seasons. The gardens also includes three side courts to the east and south.
The garden is held in high regards by garden connoisseurs, particularly for its mastery of the following techniques: relative dimension, contrast, foil, sequence and depth, and borrowed scenery. The arrangement of pavilions, halls, music rooms, bamboo groves and waterside perches is an exercise in natural harmony.
This is the first of an extensive series of posts on the best gardens in the world. Please return next Monday for a look at the stunning Sanssouci Palace and Park in Potsdam, Germany.