The Landscaping of Chinese Gardens

The landscaping of the Chinese garden is often realized through comparing, foiling, scaling, true and false conditions, and other artistic techniques. 2017-09-14

The landscaping of the Chinese garden is often realized through comparing, foiling, scaling, true and false conditions, and other artistic techniques. The basic methods involved are contrasting, borrowing, adding, framing, suppressing, revealing, blocking, etc. And the results are high and low, dense and scattered, rhythmic and beautiful garden spaces.


The use of borrowing in garden design can help express the unlimited in a limited space. Borrowing includes near borrowing, far borrowing, adjacent borrowing, mutual borrowing, upward borrowing, downward borrowing, and time-based borrowing. Borrowing can be achieved by opening new perspective appreciating scenery, removing blockage, raising the viewpoint, breaking the barrier of the garden, introducing false scenery, etc. Objects that can be borrowed include: mountains and rivers, animals and plants, buildings and structures, people, astronomical and meteorological objects, etc. For example, the landscape “Real Meaning of Lake and Mountain” in the Summer Palace borrows Yuquan Mountain near the palace, so that visitors can appreciate breathtaking scenery as the sun goes down and the sky is dyed red.

Objects outside the garden can be actively borrowed in the view. Borrowing is a traditional method in Chinese garden art. The space of a garden is limited. To increases the depth and width of the scenery and enrich the content of the visit, designers can use borrowing to express to unlimited in the limited space besides methods like multiple combinations and indirect, crooked arrangement.


Adding is one of the methods to create landscape in classical Chinese gardens. When there are natural or cultural sceneries far away but no transitional scenery here or between here and there, viewers would feel empty and notice the lack of spatial layers. If there are some trees or flowers near or in the middle as transition, these trees or flowers are considered as added elements. Adding can be small designs, trees or greenery. Towering and good-looking trees can serve as good adding, be it only one or a few such trees.


Framing is one of the methods used to create landscape in an artistic garden. “Designers who know the rules would follow the texture of rocks and the brushstroke of the ancient painters and plant pine trees and cypresses from Mount Huangshan, ancient plum trees, fine bamboos, and frame them in a round window, as if the viewer were traveling in a mirror.” Li Yu also talked about arranging “small-sized window”, or using the “hollow window” to incorporate outdoor sceneries. This is also an application of adding.

If sceneries in the space cannot all be seen, or if there is something worth showing in a seemingly mediocre space, the designer can use door frame, window frame, tree frame, cave, etc. to selectively introduce beautiful sceneries.


Contrasting is one of the methods used to create landscape in gardens. In a garden, visitors can appreciate hall, hill, bridge and trees from a pavilion, platform, building, cabinet, and terrace, or the other way around. Appreciating views at Point A from Point B or appreciating views at Point B from Point A (or the same kind of landscaping) is called contrasting.

Direct Contrasting: Setting a scenery at the end of the sight line or an end of a line is considered direct contrasting. The relation between visiting route and sight line is simple in this case.

Mutual Contrasting: Setting two sceneries at the viewpoint and the end of the sight line, or at both sides of a line is called mutual contrasting. The relation between viewpoint and visiting route focuses more on mutual connection and contrasting sceneries in this case.


Suppressing is one of the common methods to create landscape in gardens. It is commonly known as “hiding before showing” and “suppressing before revealing”. If you walk into a door and see a rockery, then the scenery is suppressed by the rockery; if you see a grove, then it is suppressed by the grove.

Traditional Chinese art has been stressing on subtlety. Therefore, garden landscape designers will never show you the best scenery the moment you walk through the door. It often stays behind. This is called “hiding before showing”, “suppressing before revealing”, as described by the saying: “Just as the weary traveler despairs of finding a road, a village appears and the shade of willows and riotous flowers beckon.” It is this suppressing method that enriches the artistic charm of the garden. For example, a rockery blocking the view at the entry of the garden is called “suppressing with rockery”.


Revealing is one of the methods to create landscape in an artistic garden. It comes from framing. Framing is about the whole view, while revealing is subtle and elegant because it reveals only part of the scenery. The scenery can be revealed through a window, wall, folding screen, sparse woods, etc. There is a description about a famous ancient sword. According to “Yufu” in the first volume of Commentaries on Antiquity and Today, “The emperor of Wu has three treasured swords, ... and the third one is called Revealing.” The commentary that ancient people gave about this sword is: This sword is light and you can barely feel its weight. It is like cloud and smoke, but it can cut everything.


Blocking refers to the method of blocking the objects that will undermine the scenery, or temporarily blocking the scenery that is about to emerge. It involves a principle of the art of classical garden, which is “one scenery for one step, and scenery changes when the visitor changes their position”. The most typical example would be gardens in Suzhou, which use the composition of different layers and the setting of woods and rockeries to block and separate sceneries so that visitors cannot see it all in one glance. The ancient people stressed on image depth and the sense of multiple layers. That is why we say things like “a crooked path leading to a quiet place”. The visitor becomes a part of the multilayered landscape.


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