Pavilion of Absolute Perfection
The Bridge to the Pavilion of Absolute Perfection
The Mill & Long Men Lou
Long Men Lou, Chi Lin Vegetarian Restaurant
Xiang Hai Xuan Multi-purpose Hall
View from the Lunar Reflection Terrace
Xiang Hai Xuan Multi-purpose Hall
Grafted flowers
Scholar’s rocks
Spring Hill
Entrance between 2 viaducts
Nan Lian Garden entrance sign
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Appreciating a serene Tang dynasty garden in crowded Kowloon

Mythical landscapes in a Garden

Classical Chinese gardens are inseparably connected to Chinese literature, philosophy and art. Ancient poets wrote about rivers, mountains and heavenly places. Taoists, Confucianists and Buddhist philosophers taught an appreciation for harmony and beauty. Chinese ink painters created scrolls depicting the ideals of poets and philosophers. Inevitably, garden designers inspired by these accounts re-created these mythical landscapes.

A Buddhist Garden in Diamond Hill

In Diamond Hill, settled between busy roads, viaducts, a shopping mall and high-rise apartments there is a 35,000-square-metre traditional Chinese garden. Nan Lian Garden came into existence in 2006 through the efforts of Chi Lin Nunnery for a park that could strengthen local appreciation of traditional Chinese culture. As a result, the Government of Hong Kong commissioned Chi Lin to design and build the Garden.

Human-inspired & naturally created art

Nan Lian was modelled on Jiangshouju Garden in Shanxi Province (a surviving Tang dynasty garden). The guiding principle then and now is the pursuit of aesthetic beauty by emphasising both human-inspired and naturally created art. This is done by creating naturally beautiful scenes in miniature with real, or potentially real, versions of mountains and lakes while symbolically representing the natural order of creation.

Tang dynasty gardening rules

Like any traditional art form, there are rules to abide by. So, the garden designers went back to rules set during the First Golden Age of classical gardens, the Tang dynasty (AD 618-907). The rules followed for Nan Lian Garden include fully utilising the space, borrowing, concealing, employing sharawadgi (an English word meaning artful irregularity), blocking, extending and insulating noise.

An unfurling scroll

A well-designed Chinese garden creates a sense of mystery that stimulates the imagination with every step, like a Chinese scroll painting unfurling in a continuous narrative. Nan Lian is not designed to be seen all at once but is laid out to present a series of non-repeating views. This is achieved by concealment with views controlled by winding pathways, hillocks (small hills), trees, large rocks, plants and with architectural structures.

A sanctuary open to all

Nan Lian has been managed by Chi Lin Nunery for sixteen years. They maintain it as if it were a sacred sanctuary. Trees and plants are continually and meticulously pruned, scholars’ rocks are washed, and walls are regularly painted. It is unlike any other park in Hong Kong. Although it can add to the experience, one does not need to know the history, tradition and symbolism behind the Garden’s design to appreciate the peaceful relaxing environment it provides. 

A destination for meditation

Nan Lian has a poetic beauty that encourages multiple visits. Each visit varies with the weather, the time of day and the change of seasons. It offers an oasis for meditation and a destination to appreciate what is right with the world. 

                                                                        Text & Photos Martin Wray