The elements of Chinese gardens are ethereally beautiful and designed to be an art form, just like painting, poetry and writing. They are rich with color and an abundance of plantlife, rocks and ponds with fish. These gardens have been objects of great fascination for many people for centuries.
The earliest Chinese gardens can be traced back to the Shang Dynasty from 1600 - 1027 BC. The gardens' design features four natural elements in water, plants, rock and architecture. It is common to see not only fish in the garden ponds but various types of amphibian animals, such as frogs and reptiles, such as turtles. Every aspect of the gardens are meant to induce harmony and tranquility to its visitors. In other words, Chinese gardens are meant to bring on a perfect balance of yin and yang.
Chinese gardens utilize ancient weathered rocks that have seen vast changes in their natural environment. These rocks are thought of containing supernatural overtones and bringing luck to the garden. In different light throughout the day into the evening and eventually, night, the rocks are thought to undergo various changes in texture, color and substance. The rocks give a sense of and are reminiscent of mountains, which give an illusion of natural landscapes in spite of the gardens being man-made. Any tree, bush or shrub found in a Chinese garden should be pruned for shape to create a beautiful appearance of being windswept. This is a typical look that is commonly found in gardens on the Chinese coast.
The ideal Chinese garden consists of one or a pair of ornamental trees leading into a small courtyard. The farther you meander into the garden, the more exotic plants, rock formations and water you see. They are often constructed from a series of mazes or labyrinths. Chinese landscapes are often seen as being a maze of outdoor rooms that intersect into one another. This is a typical feature of the larger variety of Chinese gardens.
Traditional Chinese gardens feature an area consisting of structures for people to sit down and read or do calligraphy. While sitting at these areas, one can occasionally raise their head to survey and enjoy the beautiful landscape surroundings. Pergolas are not uncommon in these garden areas. However, Western touches should be avoided in the construction of a Chinese garden, as the idea is to create a distinctly authentic Eastern feel and look. Wall separations between "rooms" in a Chinese garden are commonly made from rocks and bamboo. Plants serve as hedge dividers, which gives a beautiful and natural look as well.
Water found in the gardens will typically feature an exquisite, very distinctly Oriental touch, such as a small bridge, not necessarily for crossing but for decoration. It is extremely common to see the pond filled with goldfish or other breeds of fish. Chinese water lilies are common blooms you will see flowering the ponds. Lawns do not landscape the water, as a cleared area with a stone walkway is more common. In the lawns themselves, Chinese grasses are the best option for a Chinese garden. Chinese lanterns are even common and very beautiful features around the scenery.
Another common feature of Chinese gardens is a waterside pavilion. This is a wooden structure built in the water that stands on stilts. Occasionally, you will see the pavilion half in the water and half on land, which adds a very unique touch.
Plants found in Chinese gardens are selected for their symbolism and are thought of as having mystical powers. They play a special role in the setting, and open spaces are often decorated with plants like cypress and pine. Chinese garden courtyards are typically decorated with bamboo, a very common plant found in the Far East, particularly China itself. It is found in particularly special areas of the garden and are thought to hold the symbolism of inner strength, resiliency and rebirth.
For smaller Chinese gardens, you will see smaller, dwarf plants. This may even be seen in the yard of a smaller house, but it is breathtaking nonetheless. Remember, it isn't the quantity but quality that makes a garden beautiful.
Anyone considering transforming their regular garden to the Chinese variety should consult feng shui references for a better idea on how to go about doing so. Feng shui principles will enlighten gardeners to use the natural elements of water, wind, air and earth. Learn about Chinese art and landscapes, and do your research on traditional Chinese gardens for ideas so that you can ultimately achieve the best results.
Visit your local greenery or nursery and let them know what you are planning. Inquire about additional information, as Chinese gardens are not uncommon in the West.