Monday, April 26, 2010

More Chinese travels

            Just come back from a two week trip to China, leading a Gardens Ilustrated tour group with a colleague from Sheffield, Lei Gao. I went to China last year (see blog **), so we re-visited all those places, but added a few more. One was the new city museum in Suzhou, designed by I.M.Pei – the central courtyard lake was stunning, especially this backdrop ‘rock garden’.

            Had a proper look this time at ‘Viewing Fish at Flowering Harbour’, though very crowded (a weekend), a park in Hangzhou by the Western Lake, designed by Sun Xiaoxing, China’s first really-acclaimed park since 1949, built in the mid-1950s to incorporate western and Chinese elements. Struck by how good the planting design was, a mix of unclipped and clipped shrubs largely.


The Western Lake at Hangzhou is really beautiful, but to appreciate it you need to be on the eastern built-up side, not the greener and much nicer western side. You could be on Lake Geneva, all very smart lakeside; you look across to the mountains with the clouds drifting between them. The Hangzhou Botanic Gardens include some good 1960s design, framed garden vignettes, between various buildings and walkways. Modern, but still invoking so much of the traditional approach to combining inside and outside.

            High point was going to Anhui. Lei’s home province. So green and lush. Mount Huang Shan was stunning although overrun with tour groups. Everyone in our group I think understood just where Chinese aesthetics comes from: the naturally bonsai pines, the dramatic rockfaces, the clouds. We were familiar enough now with Chinese landscape painting to feel that we had finally walked into the painting.
            Also in Anhui, we went to a couple of UNESCO heritage villages: Hongcun and Xidi, with some exquisite little gardens, all owned by local people (i.e. not Shanghai yuppies), some now run as B&Bs or restaurants, others were people Lei knew from research here years ago. Genuinely vernacular and made the famous Suzhou gardens look like museum pieces.