Six thousand miles east of Hadrian’s Villa and about 900 years later, in Suzhou, China, we enter the Surging Wave Pavilion garden by crossing a canal and passing through a main gatehouse. Immediately the din of the outside world disappears. This garden, built in 1044 CE by the retired government official Sun Shunqing, is a great example of one of the oldest garden making traditions.
Corridors and courtyards lead the visitor through smaller gardens and garden rooms. Doorways of various shapes and lattice windows suggest mystery and invite one to go deeper into the garden.
The garden itself idealizes nature, featuring mountains, water, and bamboo groves in relatively small vignettes. At the end of a series of gardens, one comes to a naturalistic hill that rises at the center of the garden. In contrast to the geometric layout of Hadrian’s Villa, Surging Waves is intimate, embracing organic shapes and asymmetry. The result is harmonious.
It is interesting to note that this garden was built when Europe was deeply in the middle ages, and over 200 years before Marco Polo’s visit to Suzhou in 1276.
Learn more about Suzhou gardens in Ron Henderson’s book The Gardens of Suzhou.