could hardly understand the nature and process of development of the Chinese
mastery of gardening without being familiar with Chinese painting and fine
arts, as a whole. This is because the Chinese art of gardening was not
a pursuit of specialists in horticulture or architecture. Since ancient
times these fields had been left to the poets, artists, monks and literary
people, as they were believed to comprehend nature best. Therefore, they
were capable not only of reproducing it, praising it in poems, drawing
it in their paintings but also of featuring it in the gardens made for
poetic seclusion and philosophic meditation. Poetry, painting and gardening
have been deeply integrated.
These three means of creating
performance had one and the same goal – to glorify the beauty of landscapes
and highlight the contrasts and harmony of the scenery.
The three major religions
in China preached adoration and maximal identification with nature. And
since rocks, mountains, lakes and rivers are the most impressive nature
ornaments, they were the once that had an impact on and were re-created
in the gardens. Unfortunately, another tradition led to tremendous losses
of knowledge about the beautiful historical gardens. When a noble man or
the emperor himself died, his hire never settled in the present estates,
so they were abandoned.
The Chinese masters arranged
gardens following strict philosophical and aesthetic rules. Every element
had a deep symbolic meaning. Rock formations, stones and mountains represented
the skeleton of the Earth. Water streams were compared to the veins and
arteries of human body. So, the perfect combination was “earth” and “water”.
For the purpose of gardening
were used rocks, fantastically shaped by the currents in the lakes or rivers.
When placed vertically, they resembled minute coastlines. Rock shapes formed
even caves sometimes. Often one could even see a separately placed original
rock, almost like a statue, for admiration.
The art of gardening in China
reached its peak of development during the Sung period (960 – 1280 A.C).
Unfortunately, only certain poems and Marc O’Polo’s records provide data
about garden composition at that time. What we can be sure about is the
presence of certain elements such as lakes, islands, pavilions, cascades,
meadows, groups of trees, decorative caves, streams pine – trees, bamboo
woods and weeping willows. The palaces of Kubilai, emperor of China (13th
century A.C.) which took up enormous space from the territory of Peking
represent a marvelous example from that time.
According to Marc O’Polo,
an artificial mountain rose near the fortified walls. When the emperor
heard of a beautiful tree growing somewhere, he had it brought by elephants
to his palace no matter how large and heavy it was. They planted it in
this mountain where all the trees were beautiful. The ditches which were
left after the building of the mountains have been transformed into lakes
full of fish, swans and other birds. Kubilai took his astrologer’s advice:”
The one who plants trees will live long.” So, except from creating the
mountain, he lined all the roads with trees providing pleasant shades in
summer and landmarks in winter when everything else was covered with snow.
It was not until the 17th
century, that British ships reached the Chinese shores for the first time
and the European world acquired more profound knowledge of the Eastern
culture. Many records tell about the Summer Palace of the Chinese Emperor
Quinlong. The immense area was divided into separated “intimate” yards
designed with pools, canals, swamps and also paths, winding through multicolor
flower massifs, pavilions, placed amid verdant vegetation (bamboo, pine-trees,
peaches, cedars, juniper, magnolias, plum-trees, weeping willows, roses,
jasmines, chrysanthemums, peonies, lotuses, etc.), rounded terraces all
of which were built with great respect towards Nature.
Container gardening was also
a most popular means of communicating with nature in private homes.
Almost everything in the
garden had a deep symbolic meaning. We can say with no doubt that the Chinese
art of gardening established the main laws of horticulture in the Far East.