{eastern garden design - part four: architecture}

Being married to an Architect I've come to (forced to?) appreciate the importance of architecture in our environment and how it can either enhance or detract from the beauty of the surrounding landscape. Certainly within Chinese garden design architecture is fundamental, it is the primary element around which everything else is designed.

The gardens are designed so as they are not revealed all at once, rather in a more picturesque fashion, whereby vistas are created from within pavilions, or as you stroll along the covered corridors and meandering pathways, or through a decorative port hole in the wall. By containing the garden before expanding to reveal its entirety it enhances the enjoyment, as you are constantly surprised by the unfolding beauty before you and curious about what else is contained around the corner.
A view from outside the garden - a preview of what lies within!
The highly decorative and detailed waterside pavilions are generally modestly and simply decorated inside. They provide a place for quiet observation and contemplation of the garden, often providing inspiration for poetry and painting. The covered corridors offer the ability to wander the gardens no matter the weather, while the zig-zagging pathways are intentionally used to encourage you to slow down and enjoy the journey through the garden, it is also believed they ward off evil spirits! Unlike other pavements which do not encourage you to look at your feet, here they are given special treatment, with intricately designed and laid paving, adding another level of beauty to the garden.

'Lenient Jade Pavillion' - one of the many waterside pavilions
Highly decorative 'Dragon Wall'
to the left of the pavilion
A covered zig-zagging corridor with views across the central lake and garden
Decorative 'port hole' window to garden beyond
Beautiful and highly decorative paving,
with zig-zagging path in background
Closer view of the decorative pebble pathway
'Moon Gates', circular openings within walls, add a sense of anticipation and heightened interest to step through and discover what  is beyond. They also act as a wonderful frame to the landscape on either side. Historically they were only found in the garden's of the very wealthy.

Looking through the 'Moon Gate' to the garden beyond
The thing which struck me the most about the gardens was that I felt completely at ease and relaxed as soon as I entered. The walls act as a security blanket from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. You certainly get the sense that the gardens fulfil their objective of providing a place of shelter and spiritual utopia for you to connect with nature and your inner-self. Everything slows down in the gardens, your mind relaxes and you become conscious of any tension melting away.

The walls from outside the garden. Within lies complete sanctuary.
I thoroughly enjoyed my meander through the gardens, even finding myself doing a second turn inadvertently. You seem to see something different each time, be it from a different angle or by choosing to take a different path. The garden acts as a reminder that we should enjoy the journey as much as the destination!!

{the cottage garden club}

Yesterday's blog entry was about rocks in chinese garden design, well I've been living under one! How this special little club has flown under my radar is a mystery. I stumbled across its existence in a past copy of Gardening Australia magazine. I instantly rang the Secretary, Sue Perkins to find out more and couldn't have come across a more lovely or enthusiastic person. The club meets every three months at Epping in a big ol' church hall (as you will see from pictures below, it may not be big enough for long!). There are over 700 members in the club who all have a common bond of loving gardens, in particular, Cottage Gardens. Stalls full of plants welcome you in, as does a cuppa. Best to get there early as plants are snapped up like hot cakes. Of course I came away with an array of goodies - some FREE! (you have to love the generosity of gardeners!). Lunch is provided by members each bringing a plate to contribute- good opportunity for recipe swapping!

Being a member of this lovely 'little' group has many benefits: attending these meetings to listen to the wonderful speakers, joining in a "Ramble" (sneaky peaking on another member's garden or other generous person who opens up their garden for us to look at), interstate and international guided garden tours at discounted rates and of course the quarterly newsletter. Personally, I think the $15 for the annual membership is money well spent just to spend the day with like minded people who don't think I'm crazy if all I do is talk plants and gardening!! (PS. lunch is pretty awesome too - check out all the homecooked yumminess!!)

You had me at the first stall...
Fantastic perennials from Bob Griffin's nursery
"Cooramilla Nursery" all the way from Blayney!

Not a spare seat to be found! Tables laden with lunchtime goodies!

Books from Florilegium - my other weakness!!

{eastern garden design - part three: rock}

As a child I'd love lying back amongst the clover staring up at the sky and losing myself amongst the 'images' in the clouds. If you let your imagination go and run wild a bit you can see the beautiful and the bizarre! The use of rock in Chinese gardens is much the same - sometimes you need to use a little imagination to understand what they are portraying. 

Foreground: Phoenix Rock. Background: Unicorn Rock

Left of screen: Dragon Rock. Right of screen: Tortoise Rock
Rock Forest
Rocks in Chinese garden design are used both structurally and sculpturally. The sculptural rocks are composed to depict mountain ranges or peaks, others are strategically positioned individually to display their human, animal or spiritual qualities. Rock is also used to provide the strong and masculine 'yang' element of the garden, balanced by the soft and feminine 'ying' of water. It is interesting then to note that the Chinese word for landscape, 'shan shui', translates to 'mountains and waters'.

As with anything created by nature, the features of rock vary greatly: colour, pattern, shape and texture, and hence each rock is prized for its individuality. Whilst some may be carved by hand, generally speaking those which occur naturally are held in higher regard. Many of the rocks used in the Chinese Gardens of Friendship were sourced locally from the NSW Central West town of Cumnock (not far from where I grew up...)

Whilst I'm not suggesting you go out and start collecting rock from the bush, I do recommend thinking about adding a sculptural element to your garden. Something with a personal meaning is always lovely, but if not, something which will draw the eye into the garden will add interest and gives the garden another level.

PS. Yes I do still love to lie amongst the clover and create cloud shapes...try it sometime it's very relaxing!

{eastern garden design - part two: water}

With the experience of drought as a child still vividly etched on my memory, I have a great respect for and appreciation of water. Whilst some may simply see it as the clear liquid that flows out of the tap, I see it as a precious resource, each drop collected and used thoughtfully. We never had much of it growing up on the farm. I was always jealous of the 'town kids' who didn't have to think twice about turning on the tap to run a bath or run through the sprinkler on a hot day. Many years have passed since then but I'm still extraordinarily cautious with its use. So stepping into the gardens I was instantly drawn to the water in all its forms.

Dramatic effect - Cascading water
Serene and peaceful - still water in main lake

Water in the gardens is used various ways for various effects, from the still water in the main lake, the trickling streams gently meandering through the garden, to the powerful cascading waterfalls emptying back into the lake. The element of water is used in the design of Chinese gardens to 'soften' the hard forms of rock whilst creating a cool and serene atmosphere. The sound of water is also very relaxing, aiding in the visitors quest for quiet contemplation and meditation. Whilst most suburban blocks, terrace courtyards or balconies don't allow for the vast expanse of water used here in the Chinese Gardens, a small water feature can be incorporated into most spaces. Not only will you be albe to enjoy their asthetic appeal and therapeutic benefits, but you have a good chance of also encouraging fauna into your garden ~ a small pond will create a wonderful habitat for frogs and encourage insect eating lizards or a bird bath will be very much welcomed by local birds looking for relief on a hot day to drink or bathe.

I'm slowly learning not to be afraid of using water. My own garden plans incorporate both bird baths and a frog pond. Used thoughtfully and responsibly the benefits of its use will far outweigh the guilt I might have of  'non-essential' use, or if I do ever feel guilty at least I will be able to retreat into my cool and serene garden to relax about it!!

{eastern garden design - part one: plants of course!}

I have a passion for plants, anyone who knows me well or even a little will know this about me. So I shall be biased and start with plants as the first key element to discuss about Chinese garden design.

The first thing I noticed when I entered the gardens was the fusion of plants being used - exotics such as Camellia, Willow, Azalea and Magnolias seemed to fit so seamlessly and perfectly next to Australian natives such as Banksia. 

'Topiarised' Banksia with Weeping Willow overhead

The scenes within the gardens resemble the wild landscape in a miniature form - mountains, waterfalls, lakes etc, and whilst to the untrained eye everything may look natural, these gardens are meticulously maintained - pruning and plant training would be an ongoing task. Plants are not chosen for their beauty alone. Their form, texture and symbolic meaning is also of great importance. Bamboo represents a strong but resilient character with upright morality. Pine symbolises longevity, persistence, tenacity and dignity. Pyrus ussuriensis 'Manchurian Pear' is regarded as the "Tree of good Government", symbolising durability and longevity. The simple beauty of the lotus signifies purity whilst renewal and strength of will is symbolised in the form of the blossom of the flowering plum. Each season is represented in the garden, from the beauty of the blossom in spring to the fiery autumnal tones of the maple leaves as the season passes into winter. 

I was so taken by the beauty of the lotus, both in tight bud form and when fully open. It is so graceful and dignified holding its head up high with an air of lady-like sophistication.

Serenity and Grace all in the one perfect package

For me, the thing to take away from this is to plant with purpose and meaning. I'm very much against following trends and don't just design to fit in with what society dictates is fashionable at the time. I think a garden is so much lovelier when it has meaning and a story to tell, be it a short story: courtyard or balcony, a penguin paperback: suburban backyard or an epic novel: sprawling country estate!

{kung hei fat choy} - chinese new year in the gardens

I spent the day playing tourist in my own city yesterday. It's amazing the difference it makes when you can wander the city in your own time, not rushing from place to place meeting deadlines and dodging traffic jams.

As this weekend is the culmination of the Chinese New Year celebrations, I thought it appropriate to visit the Chinese Garden of Friendship. It was 22 years ago that I last visited these beautiful gardens! Whilst I thought they were lovely back then, I found a much greater appreciation of their design now having studied the intricacy of Eastern Garden design - everything has meaning in these gardens which takes their beauty to an even higher level.

So young! My sister & I ~ 1988 (I'm in the sexy green socks!)

22 years on ~ a solo poser!
Behind their high walls the gardens offer a place of peace, reflection and sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney's CBD. It is such a lovely place to be alone, just you and your thoughts, a place to rejuvenate the spirit and calm the mind. This feeling of peace is brought about by the sense of everything being in perfect harmony and balance, achieved through the careful use of the four key elements of water, stone, plants and architecture.

In the next couple of blogs I will focus on each of these four elements - you never know you might just be able to take a few ideas and re-create your own sanctuary.

I couldn't recommend highly enough a visit to these stunning gardens. Find out more about the Chinese Garden of Friendship here.

{a very stylish garden shed}

I would like to say this is my gardening shed, sadly it is not. Mine is a dusty garage decorated with the resident spider's cobwebs and quite the collection of empty plastic pots. This gorgeous space belongs to Heather Cameron, a very lucky lady indeed. It was featured sometime ago in American "Country Living" and I have had it pinned on my 'inspiration/aspiration' board ever since. I don't know how much gardening would get done though...