Entrance to the Yì Pǔ Yuan, the Garden of cultivation. Climbing roses and hibiscus add softness to the strict, rather heavy architecture.
Yì Pǔ, or the Garden of Cultivation, was the last of all eight gardens I visited in Suzhou. Unexpectedly, it also became my favorite of them all, despite a slight garden-induced coma and a pair of heavily aching feet. After an early morning visit to the Liu Yuan, I had walked to it over seven kilometers, first having unsuccessfully tried to get a taxi to drive me there, and then been ripped off by a naughty rickshaw driver, who instead of the promised ride to Yì Pǔ pedalled me to a distant "pearl factory" that added at least two kilometers to my walk. But being a Finn, I should have sisu - kind of primeval determination - so I didn't let these small setbacks keep me off from my last treat.
View from the other, inner side of the same gate as above.
One of the inner courts between the buildings, with a small penjing arrangement and a potted lady finger palm. Beautiful paving made of small stones, and all the roof tiles end in a small one decorated with a bat for good luck.
When I finally arrived to the quiet residential area in the middle of which Yì Pǔ is nested, I understood the taxi drivers who had shook their heads on my request. This relatively small garden is located at No.5 Wenya Nong and only accessible by feet, bikes or mopeds through a labyrinth of small alleyways. Several times, I had to stop to ask for directions from the the locals, while trying to navigate the narrow streets with my map. The neighborhood was old, and houses and streets were well-tended, which didn't seem the case in many other areas I had wandered through during my week in Suzhou.
The central pond, as seen from the Ru Yu Ting - Pavilion of New-Born Fish. A moon gate on the other side leads to an inner courtyard and to the rockery "mountain area".
The rockeries on the south bank - in many of the gardens I visited, young couples were getting their engagement or wedding photos taken wearing traditional Chinese costumes.
The Ru Yu Ting - Pavilion of New-Born Fish - is a perfect place for reading and observing the koi fish in the pond. A soft clatter of tea glasses bears from the gazebo on the opposite side of the pond.
Yì Pǔ was originally laid out in 1541 by Ming Royal Academician (according to my Chinese guide) Wen Zhenmeng in the reign of Tianqi under the Ming Dynasty. It is one of the best preserved gardens of this era with many elements still intact, so it is very precious both historically and artistically. Three revered scholars have owned it through the centuries, which adds tremendously to its cultural value for the Chinese visitors.
Another inner courtyard with a small visitor. Small children were accompanied mostly by their grandparents - very few seemed to own prams in the city, most babies and toddlers were carried around instead.
From the tearoom, which is housed in the Shui Xie waterside gazebo. Card games and discussions over endless cups of green tea went on for hours here...
Quite small in size - the total area is only 0.38 hectares - so this garden feels very intimate compared to the larger Suzhou gardens, like the Lingering Gardens in my previous post. The central pond is surrounded by corridors that connect the buildings and pavilions, and lead to a large stone rockery representing a mountainous wood area with bamboo forests and several old trees on the southern bank of the pond. Courtyards and skywells planted with bamboo or bananas feel like they are scattered between the corridors and halls, adding their own little, refined still lifes to the whole. Occasional flowers dance in the wind - a pink hibiskus here, a rose there - adding a playful note to the garden, that felt quite relaxing after all strictly green gardens I'd seen during the week (of course, if I had visited in the spring, this would have been different, but still...).
The famous double moon gate leading to the courtyard of Yu'ou Pond - Gull Bathing Pond.
View from inside the courtyard with Yu'ou Pond - Gull Bathing Pond, the name comes from a game that was popular among "maidens" during the Ming period.
I spent almost four hours in this little garden, first resting my feet in a pavilion on the top of the rockery mountain, listening to soft rattle of bamboo around me. After that, I ordered a local special green tea in the tea house, which came with extra warm water a large pink thermos. Just sitting there, looking over the pond to the garden and listening to all discussions and card parties around me, was one of the most fullfilling moments of my whole trip to Suzhou. If you go, do not miss this garden.
My favorite picture from my favorite Suzhou garden - one of those moments that etch themselves into your memory...