The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 5: Gardens in Asia, America, Africa, Australia

Garden design in China

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785. The imperial gardens of China are described in the Lettres Edifiantes et Curieuses, &c., in a letter dated Pekin, 1743. This letter was translated by Spence, under the fictitious title of Sir Harry Beaumont, whom Horace Walpole describes as having 'both taste and zeal for the present style;' and was published in Dodsley's Collection in 1761. These gardens are described to be of vast extent, containing 200 palaces, besides garden-buildings, mock towns, villages, all painted and varnished, artificial hills, valleys, lakes, and canals; serpentine bridges, covered by colonnades and resting-places; with a farm and fields, where his imperial majesty is accustomed to patronise rural industry, by putting his hand to the plough, or, as it has been otherwise expressed, 'by playing at agriculture once a year.' Views of these gardens, taken by native artists for the Chinese missionaries, were sent to Paris about the middle of the eighteenth century, and engravings from them were published, by permission of the French court, in 1788, in a work entitled Recueils des Plans des Jardins Chinois. We have examined the plan of the imperial gardens in that work with great care, but confess we can see nothing but a mass of buildings, generally forming squares or courts, backed by peaked hills, and interspersed with pieces of water, sometimes evidently artificial, and at other times seemingly natural. The first jet-d'eau ever seen in China was formed in the imperial gardens by Pere Benoit, who went to Pekin as astronomer. The emperor was transported with it, and, instead of astronomer, made the reverend father the fountaineer. [Editor's Note: Beijing, the capital of China, was formerly spelled in English as Peking or Peiking]