Chinese gardens have an element of surprise; there is always more to see than what you are actually looking at. There is a history of meaning and purpose behind each design element. The gardens require you to be present in each moment; to look up, down, and all around. I was amazed by the details and the stories, the layers of history in each stone, passage way, and pagoda. Even the names of the pagodas and places in the gardens were rich with hidden meanings, connecting us to a time long ago.
The landscape elements that reoccured throughout my garden tours are…
The borrowed landscape is when neighboring or distant landscapes are used as a part of the garden in order to create an illusion of depth and distance. For example, some of the gardens I visited framed faraway pagodas with trees and rockery in the gardens. This effect made it seem as though the pagoda was actually part of the garden I was currently in.
The keyhole doorways signify a separation of space, with the intention of hiding the upcoming landscape. This feature created segmented gardens that built upon one another. Walking through so many doorways made the space feel larger, as if I was meandering through a maze. I could not see where I came from or where I was going.
Tuisi Bridge, Tongli
An empty bridge
Covered with large vines
Provides an unlikely resting spot
I pause and look down at my feet
And watch schools of koi fish swirl around me
A playground of rocks
People popping up and down, in and out
I get lost as I crawl, climb, and slip through the cracks
An unbelievable playground for a long lost childhood
Meditating on Koi, Yu Gardens
Tongli was a perfect rest from busy city life. Tongli provides a look at 1,000 years of history and some of the most beautiful representations of Chinese gardens. The town itself is a well-preserved ancient city built on a network of canals and bridges. The boundaries of the ancient city are part of a tourism system; you need to purchase a ticket to enter the city and visit all the attractions and no large vehicles are allowed. My experience strolling around the town was peaceful. The streets and alleys were narrow and built for the pace of a pedestrian. Since the whole town is a tourist center, the historical authenticity is continuous and uninterrupted as you travel from place to place.