Dating back 2000 years, Chinese gardening is one of the world's oldest arts. Traditionally Chinese gardens represent a rich world of imagination, storytelling, fantasy and surprise. Wandering through the Chinese Scholars' Garden at Hamilton Gardens is a journey of discovery.
Above the Garden's tiled entrance way, the bold red Ting Pavilion seems within easy reach to the Chinese Scholars' Garden. Take your time to get to it and you will be well rewarded. A winding journey takes you over the seasonally blooming Wisteria Bridge, across the Island of Whispering Birds, past the hidden philosopher, and through a lush grove to finally reach the Pavilion and its views of the Waikato River.
The Chinese Scholars' Garden is generally but not exactly a traditional Chinese garden from the Sung Dynasty, 10th - 12th century. (Sung gardens were not totally dominated by rocks, like the later Ming and Qing dynasties).The art of Chinese gardening is one of the oldest artistic expressions in existence with a heritage that stretches back to the Han Period, at least 2,000 years ago. Because Chinese gardening has been a very influential art form it is sometimes called the 'mother of gardens'.
Gardens of the Han Period were designed in close relationship to their contemporary arts of Chinese landscape painting, poetry, calligraphy and music (often written in or about the gardens and the landscapes that they evoke). Notable people (from Wuxi and Taiwan) have designed the examples of calligraphy in the Chinese Scholars' Garden to give this garden prestige. Scholars' gardens represented an imaginative world of allegory, fantasy, mystery and surprise and were rich in evocatice symbolism, ambiguity and thought provoking artiface. While these are elements found in some other ancient gardens and architecture, generally they are unfamiliar to modern western gardeners who focus on the functions of a garden and on plant collections. Hence we often find them difficult to understand and to value.
Emphasis was placed on primary views, - symbolism, reference to legends, mystery and illusion, sequence and contrast, and emphasis on time. The last of these refers to momentary, diurnal, annual, generational and eternal time frames. There was less emphasis on functionality. For example paths were not necessarily easy and direct but would often be winding and with a rough surface to consciously slow down the visitor (as on the Island of Whispering Birds).In ancient China, mandarins, scholars and the landed gentry formed a distinct social class. It was this class that created and maintained the distinctive form of the traditional scholar's garden. Gardens sometimes reflected the Chinese philosophy of Confucianism, with its restrained formality and hierarchy.