Will China become a Nation of Gardeners?

One thing that strikes visitors to China immediately is the love of the population for flowers. Large, colourful blooms are the most popular and plantations are often visibly stressed by the masses of photographers that swarm over them. The best displays attract large crowds throughout the day and into the evening. Even on the rooftops – where they are accessible – burgeoning green is to be seen everywhere and salesmen on tricycles with impossible quantities of potted plants tour the urban streets where I live. If eating well is said to be one of China’s foremost hobbies, then gardening, or the appreciation of gardens, must also be high up the scale. Who knows what might happen when this emotional bond makes the leap to landscape architecture on the larger scale? And when might this take place? Perhaps, as in Seoul, a process of review will take place on the newly built environment in the not too far distant future and then the Chinese people will surprise us all – as they already have in so many other areas of life – with cityscapes that will be the envy of the western world.

20 thoughts on “Will China become a Nation of Gardeners?

  1. Tom Turner

    Great photos, thank you. I particularly like the roof vegetation and I think it gives a glimpse of the future of cities in most parts of the world – though it worries me a little for its resemblence to the bottom diagram on this gardenvisit webpage on ecocities (also the left pic here).
    The love of flowers, and the trade of the flower-seller, is very old in China. An American resident in Beijing in the 1920s wrote that: ‘The flowers are brought by a pedlar in shallow baskets swinging by ropes from a shoulder yoke. Down the narrow lane he calls his wares; the bargaining at the gate is sharp and swift; soon the court is gay with bloom. Azaleas. Camellia trees in earthen jars. White tiny roses twisted into an intricate trellis. The misty purple blue of China asters, the tawny rust of late chrysanthemums. The flower coolie takes away the used plants so that they may rest until next year. The courtyard, where the life of the family centres, presents a new pattern; it is renewed and enlivened’

  2. Christine

    Tom this study [ http://www.sss7.org/Proceedings/03%20Spatial%20Analysis%20and%20Architectural%20Theory/S079_Chen.pdf ]
    of classical Chinese gardens analyzing the ‘Principle of Continuity’ is incredibly interesting on a number of levels. Firstly the distinction in made between accessibility (knee high connectivity) and observability (eye high connectivity) in the gardens.

    The author also talks of the role of the ‘leaking window’ in connecting and integrating separated spaces. I am not sure I have fully understood the role of step depth, so perhaps you might comment on this for me.

    The difference complexity (reflected in speed of travel through the garden and time taken to travel the distance) makes to perception that the gardens are larger or smaller in comparison with each other, in gardens of the same size is fascinating.

    The qualitative separation of spaces and roads (see the secret road) according to servant useage (described as a dark and narrow passage) suggests something of how the gardens originally functioned to facilitate social and organizational roles within Chinese society.

    The findings are of great value for understanding the achievements of a creative approach to landscape architectural design. (There seems to be a danger however that the studies will be used to facilitate a scientific approach which will reproduce effects rather than re-imagine possibilities?)

  3. Tom Turner

    I like Ye Chen’s paper on the Analysis of Space Attribute and Tourist Pattern on Chinese Private Gardens: restructuring the spatial argument and I have visited both gardens. The idea of applying Space Syntax analysis to gardens, instead of cities, is appealing and I think garden design can be a useful ‘crucible’ in which city designers can learn, develop theories and practice their art at the small scale before they move on to the large scale. All this is good. But I suspect it is an approach which builds on the Chinese garden-analysis tradition of speculating about what exists. The western historical tradition is more concerned with analyzing how places came to exist. Both are good; both need to adopt the other’s approach.

  4. Christine

    Tom that is an interesting distinction between eastern and western traditions please tell me more! (ps. and a little about step depth…)

  5. Tom Turner

    It’s only an impression gleaned from garden history and I do not know enough about Chinese historical writing to know if it has wider validity. My guess is that because China has always valued stability more than the west there has been less interest in change and more in characteristics.

    Space Syntax theory is mathematically based and Visual Step Depth is “the least number of direction changes to each apex within the graph”. Here is a relatively simple explanation of the basic concepts: http://www.spatialanalysisonline.com/output/html/Spacesyntax.html

  6. Christine

    I assume the Turner mentioned isn’t you?

    I find the analysis interesting as it has a relationship with two qualitative processes I have experienced.

    The first was experiential mapping of the psychology of space at Monsalvat.
    [ http://www.montsalvat.com.au/Default.aspx ] The method was closest to something you would do in an acting/art class.

    The second was semiotic mapping of urban space at Southbank Parklands
    [ http://www.visitsouthbank.com.au/ ] undertook for my undergraduate architectural thesis. I presented a paper on part of this study in Hong Kong some time ago.

    Do you do something similar in your landscape classes?

  7. Tom Turner

    I would like to visit Montsalvat, though I doubt if artists can do as good work in colonies as they do when starving in lonely garrets.
    The header image of Southbank Parklands makes me worry about UV damage to fair skin – I wonder if Australians, and in fact most people, will have dark skin in a few millennia? Fair skin is just a nuisance. Hitler was bonkers.
    Re spatial mapping by landscape architects, I think it would be very useful but also that it is not much done. The experience of landscape is cinematic in the sense of sequential. It involves views but the views are always sequenced and this tends to be neglected in both analysis and design, regrettably.

  8. Christine

    Hmmm. I wonder whether Mick Jagger would have an opinion on the relative merits of colonies v garrets for artistic expression? [ http://www.montsalvat.com.au/Videos.aspx ] Montsalvat supports a non-Indigenous (post-1788) art tradition. Naata Nungurrayi’s work is an example of the indigenous art tradition (also post-1788)in the use of colour and materials if not cultural forms. [ http://www.aboriginalartnews.com.au/2010/09/ngurra-kutju-ngurrara-belonging-to-one-country.php ]

    Indigenous Australians have dark and fairer skin (post-1788).
    [ http://www.shop.nsw.gov.au/proddetails.jsp?publication=8329 ]

    Mick Jagger seems to have got by OK with fair skin living mostly in a colder climate.
    So I suppose the climate in Australia is better suited to dark skin or zinc cream and sunscreen lotion.

    I think there are a few ‘filmic’ approaches emerging at the Bartlett.
    [ http://www.bartlett.ucl.ac.uk/history_theory/programmes/bsc/sg1.htm ]

  9. Tom Turner

    Is Mick Jagger an artist or an artiste (performer), or both?
    You are right that architects (including Tschumi) have shown more interest in film than landscape architects and, in part, I think this simply a consequence of their having a much greater interest in theory. Landscape architects never seem to have time to sit, to think or to sit and think concurrently. And if they did they would end up not doing any useful landscape architecture (like me).

  10. christine

    Mick Jagger is an artiste – a skilled public performer and an artistic and creative person.[ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/artiste ]

    Mick Jagger is a also an artist – an actor or singer who works in the performing arts. [ http://www.thefreedictionary.com/artist ]

    Perhaps the interest in theory will develop as the profession develops?

    Despite the practical history of landscape architecture it is a young profession in the UK.

    The British Association of Garden Architects was formed in 1929 later becoming the British Institute of Landscape Architects. Apparently Thomas Mawson, the inaugral president, was one of the first people to use Landscape Architect as a professional title.

    Do you know when the first landscape architecture course was established in the UK?

  11. Tom Turner

    Thanks re Mick – and for the video link – I like him better as a young man than as the businessman I think he has become.
    The first UK course teaching landscape architecture was at the University of Reading, with Thomas Mawson as one of the lecturers. Reading University withdrew from landscape architecture in the 1950s and gave up teaching landscape management a year or so ago, when Richard Bisgrove retired.
    I am puzzled by British landscape architects lack of interest in theory.Many American landscape architects are very interested, though I guess they are more teachers than practitioners. Part of the problem in the UK is a crazy lack of historical perspective. The predominant view is that the eighteenth century ‘landscape movement’ was a massive English cultural achievement and the main ‘thing’ to be theorized. It not unlike the related idea that the British Empire was a truly wonderful, virtuous and unprecedented achievement with noble aims and incorruptible glories. George Orwell could tell them the truth, even from his grave.

  12. Christine

    I suppose in practice it is difficult to find time to theorise. Also to gain reflective distance – most problems in practice have an immediacy about them.

    It may also be an approach to designing that is not promoted in design schools? Perhaps a priority is given to doing over thinking?

  13. Tom Turner

    There is a hecticness to design, in the schools and in practice. Everyone seems overworked, overwrought and underpaid. We probably need a period when must people have time to think because they are unemployed. Such interludes have often been good for design theory. This reminds me that during an economic recession I was invited to apply for a job in Australia (I think in Melbourne) teaching design theory!

  14. christine

    Melbourne is a great city. You would have enjoyed the experience. What did you decide to do? Perhaps we could bring back the Sabbatical both for academia and practice.

  15. Tom Turner

    I think that is when I went to work in Egypt. Everyone I know that has visited Australia has loved it …. but the photographs I looked at did attract me. Maybe Australia does not have a light which is kind to photographers (luminous mists etc)?


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