What is a Chinese garden? How should it be designed?

Traditional Chinese gardens are wildly known for their serenity, beauty, and spiritual connection with nature, which can provide us with a perfect place to retreat from a stressful and noisy world. Also, these structures apply many ancient Chinese philosophies and showcase advanced garden design techniques that are still worth learning today. Whether it is the positioning of an iconic rock or the scale of a pruned pine tree, Chinese gardens aren’t just the stereotype of a temple statue with several bamboos in the garden. It’s much more than that. In this guide, we’ll show you some basic design principles in Chinese gardens.

What is a Chinese garden?

The Chinese gardens are typically a traditional landscape style that has been developing in China over 3000 years. In the past, these structures were often constructed for pleasure by many Chinese emperors, members of the royal family, scholars, government officials, poets, merchants, and soldiers. By creating an idealized miniature version of nature, they want to symbolize the harmony existing between nature and humans, making traditional gardens a great place for individual reflection and temporary escape from the outside world.

How to design a Chinese garden?

A Chinese garden is typically surrounded by walls painted in white, which serves as a pure background for trees and flowers. In addition, there are 4 essential elements that make this structure distinctive, including architecture, rocks, water, and plants.

1. Architecture

Chinese gardens are typically filled with many structures such as towers, kiosks, bridges, galleries, temples, pavilions, and halls. They are designed for viewing different areas of the garden from multiple points of view. Despite their large occupation, the purpose is not to dominate, but be in harmony with the surrounding landscape.

The pavilions are often built for banquets, celebrating holidays, or the reception of guests. Also, they come with a veranda around to provide shade and cool. These structures can be located in an area where we can watch the dawn or moonlight best, making them an ideal area for contemplation, poem reciting, or resting.

Doors and windows are other important architectural features of the Chinese gardens. They are designed in different shapes such as round (moon gate or windows) or oval, octagonal or hexagonal, or in the form of a fruit or vase. Sometimes, there are ceramic frames featuring flowers or trees.

2. Rocks and mountains

Rocks and artificial mountains play an essential role in Chinese gardens. In Confucian philosophy, they are the symbol of endurance, stability, and virtue. Also, a mountain peak located on the island used to be a central part of Chinese legend, thus becoming an important element in many traditional gardens.
Today, most artificial mountains often have a pavilion with a small view at the summit. In smaller gardens, a mountain is typically represented by a single scholar rock, while a mountain range is symbolized by a row of stones.

3. Lakes and ponds

A lake or pond of water is often located in the center of a Chinese garden, with many main structures are arranged around. In tradition, water symbolizes communication and lightness. Also, it is the complement to mountains and brings an infinite feeling of the spaces.

The shape of a pond typically hides its edges from viewers on other sides, giving the illusions that the pond is going on to infinity. In some gardens, there might be a pond with lotus flowers and a small pavilion for taking a few from inside. Also, people often grow goldfish in the lake to bring life to space.

4. Trees and flowers

Trees and flowers are the obvious symbolization of nature in Chinese gardens. They serve as a contrast with the immobility, sharp edges, and permanence of the rocks, as well as straight lines of other architectures. More importantly, plants can continually change with the seasons and offer both aromas and sound to please the visitors.

Each tree and flower in Chinese gardens have their own symbolic meanings. The plum, bamboo, and pine are often considered as “3 friends of the winter”, prized for their ability to remain blooming and green in winter. Thus, they represent tenacity and longevity. Of the flowers, the most popular options are lotus, peony, and orchid due to their delicate fragrance and colorful bloom.

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