I recently discovered a wonderful place, the Chinese Scholar’s Garden in Staten Island.
I have been reading about Chinese gardens and learned that the first private gardens in China were created by Scholars and poets around the year 700. Many ideas used in designing gardens today, are in fact very old and originate in China.
The Scholar’s garden is tucked away in the Snug Harbor complex. I entered the garden through a walkway of a very tall bamboo, with the sound of the wind moving the canes that felt ancient. No photos can compare to the slow unfolding as you move through the garden. The experience of ‘not seeing the garden all at once’ is originally a Chinese idea that has been absorbed into many cultures, and still used today by landscape architects and garden designers the world over.
The garden was constructed by 40 Chinese artists and artisans from Suzhou, China in 1998, and completed within 6 months. Fifteen years later, the plants are mature and while some of the hardscape is in need of repair, that hardly distracts from the beauty of the many layers of architectural details, and textured plantings that include, tall stands of bamboo, pine, cherry, plum, set against the contrasting white walls. Every space I moved through was both intimate but spacious as I could always see beyond to the next area, artfully hinted at by open patterned windows onto a ‘borrowed view’ bringing what was in the garden beyond, into the composition of the present garden – masterful.
The ideas behind this garden, is to create infinite space within a limited area – like life. By stepping through a moon gate you make a transition. View the garden from a pavilion, a bridge, or covered walkways, represents different points of view. The winding paths imitate the twists and turns of life, and waterfalls, pools and water in general, represent the vein of life. Artfully placed rocks give the feeling of being in the mountains.
I am currently working on an essay for the spring issue of Kaatsille Life which will go deeper into the many ideas the Chinese developed about gardens over 3000 years. In the mean time I hope you will make a trip to Staten Island and explore this extraordinary garden. If you do decide to go, I suggest taking lunch, and plan to spend some time – you will not be disappointed.
To get to the Scholar’s Garden in Staten Island, I took the Staten Island Ferry across the New York harbor which if you haven’t done it, is not only free, but has some of the best views of the city. Once in Staten Island, I took the S40 Bus at Gate D and that ride, about 5 minutes, which dropped me at the doorstep to Snug Harbor- a Cultural Arts Center and Botanical Garden consisting of 28 buildings and beautiful grounds.