I ’ve been reading books about Chinese architecture and gardens. This topic interests me because in a an earlier time, women lived behind high walls of family compounds that both protected and restricted. The garden might be the only bit of natural beauty they could enjoy. Gardens, therefore, have the potential to play an important role in the novel I'm writing.
Classical Chinese outdoor spaces were designed on the principle of concealment and surprise. The entrance to a garden might begin with a carved screen of stone, the screen perhaps inscribed with a few lines of poetry to hint at the delights beyond. The garden itself would be composed of a series of scenes, like vignettes, each with its own special feature or atmosphere. Winding paths concealed each vignette until you finally turned the corner. This created the sensation of ‘large in small’, an illusion aided by bamboo trees, moon gates, or walls inset with lattice windows.
Today, I’m sharing a lovely Ming Dynasty essay written during the 17th century, about the design of an ideal home garden. Its author evidently was also a connoisseur of house and garden design. Savour slowly and enjoy.
"Inside the gate there is a footpath, and the footpath must be winding. At the turning of the footpath there is an outdoor screen, and the screen must be small. Behind the screen, there is a terrace, and the terrace must be level. On the banks of the terrace there are flowers, and the flowers must be fresh. Beyond the flowers is a wall, and the wall must be low. By the side of the wall there is a pine tree, and the pine tree must be old.
At the foot of the pine tree there are rocks, and the rocks must be quaint. Over the rocks there is a pavilion, and the pavilion must be simple. Behind the pavilion are bamboos, and the bamboos must be thin and sparse.
At the end of the bamboos there is a house, and the house must be secluded. By the side of the house there is a road, and the road must branch off. At the point where the several roads come together there is a bridge, and the bridge must be tantalizing to cross. At the end of the bridge there are trees, and the trees must be tall. In the shade of the trees there is grass, and the grass must be green.
Above the grass plot there is a ditch, and the ditch must be slender. At the top of the ditch there is a spring, and the spring must gurgle. Above the spring there is a hill, and the hill must be deep. Below the hill there is a hall, and the hall must be square. At the corner of the hall there is a vegetable garden, and the vegetable garden must be big. In the vegetable garden there is a stork, and the stork must dance.
The stork announces that there is a guest, and the guest must not be vulgar. When the guest arrives, there is wine, and wine must not be declined. During the service of the wine, there is drunkenness, and the drunken guest must not want to go home."
By Chen Chiju (1588-1639). Translated by Lin Yutang (1895 – 1976) in his book “The Importance of Living” (1937). At the end of this essay, you realize that the author implies that the home garden should be created, not for the owner, but to give a guest the most welcoming experience possible.
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