Chinese people started to build gardens more than 2,000 years ago. Over this long period of time, three styles of gardens came into being: the imperial garden, the temple garden and the private garden. Among them, the most famous imperial garden extant today is the Summer Palace in Beijing, while the private gardens south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River boast a unique ambience of their own. Scattered through Suzhou, Yangzhou and other places, the private gardens are mostly legacies from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Each resembling a landscape painting, they are of unmatched charm.
Rock formations play an important role in the construction of a Chinese-style garden. Without them, a garden could not be considered an authentic Chinese-style garden. Western tourists may find that in a Chinese-style garden there are no sculptures – as often seen in a European garden. Actually, rock formations are as important to a Chinese-style garden as sculptures are to a European-style garden, and may signify even more.
Guanyun Peak, in Lingering Garden in Suzhou, is actually a formation of stones from Taihu Lake. It stands near a spring, its shadow reflecting clearly in the water. The rock formation is modeled after a peak in real life. Between the reality and the reflection, the garden presents a fascinating, picturesque composition. At the food of the rock formation are delicate yellow, white or red flowers, and halfway up the peak a pavilion alights; upwards is the peak pointing at the sky. From the bottom of the water to the water surface, the foot of the rock formation, the halfway view, and the sky, all constitute a landscape of rich layers of different views, and this is the very essence of a southern garden: the detail making for a perfect garden.
Taihu Lake stones are precious materials frequently used in the building of artificial hills in gardens south of the Yangtze River. People value them for their thinness, porosity, exquisiteness, as well as wrinkles. Thinness represents unearthliness and aloofness; porosity signifies openness and flexibility, which allows for the free flow of energy; exquisiteness describes the characteristics of being fine and delicate in texture, like jade; while wrinkles are the curving forms and ripple-like lines nurtured by water. These four features of Taihu Lake stones describe not only beauty in form but even more, reflect people’s lofty ideals toward life.