Suzhou is a famous city throughout China for its gardens. Historically a wealthy city, due in part for its large silk industry, many of its residents built classical gardens that are preserved and open to the public today. Nine of the gardens are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site list. Here’s a directory of the famous gardens of Suzhou.
Why Are the Gardens So Famous?:
Suzhou gardens differ from the imperial parks in Beijing like the Summer Palace in a single essential: they were built for the enjoyment of a private family. They are intimate and simple compared to the grandeur of the gardens for the imperial family.
The gardens were meant to be lived in and were adjacent to family houses and compounds. Owners invited guests and extended family for special parties, such as moon-viewing during the Moon Festival. While small, the gardens are designed so that a visitor receives a new perspective at every turn – a pavilion surrounded by lotus becomes apparent where before it was hidden.
The Lingering Garden:
Built in 1566, the Lingering Garden is a classic example of Ming Dynasty private garden style. Its most famous feature is the Cloud-Crowned Peak. It is listed as one of Suzhou’s four most famous gardens.
The Humble Administrator’s Garden:
Probably the most famous garden in Suzhou, the Humble Administrator’s Garden is adjacent to the newly housed Suzhou Museum. Built in 1509, also an example of Ming garden landscaping, the garden is centered around a large water feature. August is a great time to visit the garden to see the lotus blooming.
The Lion Grove Garden:
The Lion Grove Garden is particularly famous for its rockeries – bizarre (seemingly to my untrained eye) man-made formations of hand-picked rocks by the designers of the garden. Built in 1342 during the Yuan Dynasty, it is counted as one of Suzhou’s four most famous gardens.
The Master-of-Nets Garden:
Built in 1180 during the Southern Song Dynasty, the Master-of-Nets Garden is small but a beautiful example of Suzhou’s private gardens.
More Gardens to Visit:
- Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty
- The Surging Wave Pavilion
- The Couple's Garden Retreat
- The Garden of Cultivation
- The Retreat and Reflection Garden
Tips on Visiting the Gardens:
Weekends and holidays mean crowds. If you can, visit during the week and arrive around lunchtime (noon) when the crowds of tour groups will be eating lunch in big tour group restaurants and you’ll be able to see the garden in relative peace for an hour.