How a Garden Speaks as a Place

How a Garden Speaks as a Place

How a garden speaks as a place? As Thompson argues, "Gardens are instances of an uncommon collaboration between nature and culture, between living materials and the human imagination." (Thompson 1) That is to say, a garden is a mixture of the work of nature and attachment of human, leading to both conceptual impression like colors, context, shapes and sizes, and perceptual extension like emotion, imagination, culture and experience (Tuan 152). Conceptual impression is similar among other common places, but perceptual part of the garden is much more abundant. From the perceptual perspective, how a garden speaks as a place is a progressive process: appeal to emotion, rise to imagination, development of culture and integration of experience.

Near my dormitory, there lies a garden. It’s not a large one, only five minutes’ walk around. At the center of the garden, there is a pond filled with lotus, which paints the garden purely green. There is a brown wooden bridge curving above the lotus, adding a different color between the water and the sky. Surrounding the garden there are also a coffee bar, a Chinese-style pavilion, some statues and so on. It's not so practical as a dormitory or canteen, which is definitely a daily-used place, but meanwhile it's not so impractical as a forest or grassland, which is barely possible to be a place for us. Actually, rather than practical or physical connection, how the garden is linked to us is in a mental or spiritual way.

In the emotional aspect, a garden is like a mind tranquilizer. The natural scenery of a garden can be pure and clear as a whole, soothing our soul and purifying our heart. We are the sons of nature. Our survival is closely dependent on nature from the ancestors of mankind. The voice of nature is deeply rooted in our genes. In a garden, our natural affinity for nature can make us relaxed. Usually when I rush to class in the morning, maybe I just pass off the lotus garden quickly, barely to catch a glimpse, but I can still be touched by such little pieces of gentle lullaby, with my heart in peace. Vivid colors, fragrant smells and windy touches appeal to every cell in our bodies. Besides, the artificial arrangement of a garden also adds a brilliant stroke to the canvas of our emotion. The benches near the bank let us seated and rested, the pavilion in the middle of the pond invites us to chat and relax, and the stretching bridge enables us to get up close to different habitats of various wildlife. All of these artificial elements are elaborately arranged, to persuade us to stay, and put us in a better frame of mind. Fascinating charm from the call of origin and the embellishment of artificiality, that's how a garden speaks to us on our emotion.

The tranquility effect of a garden leads to serenity of spirit, which lays a solid mental foundation for us to focus on little things. Now, the garden has become an imaginative space. French philosopher Foucault once described: Garden is the smallest area in the world, but it is also the world. When the sun is shining, the pond is like a mirror, reflecting the sunlight. Glistening, sparkling, dazzling, not only is the nature, but also our dream. When the wind is breezing, the lotus sway gently with the wave, conducting a harmonious symphony——silence in reality, but blossoms in fantasy. With concentration, our identity changes from a placid passerby to an immersing observer. Through observation of nature fragments, our mind can be broadened. Monet painted his epoch-making creative work Water Lilies inspired by his own garden, and Zhuangzi got his idea of Fish Happiness enlightened by the garden as well. It can be seen that observation of garden gives rise to our imagination. In addition, the underlying implication of the objects in the garden also helps. For instance, the lotus is rooted in the mud, but floats on the water without becoming wet or muddy, which symbolize the untouched beauty and nobility. The underlying implication connects physical things with imagination, and scenery is no longer just scenery anymore. Exquisite, but also implicative, the sophisticated details give free rein to our vision, thus making the garden a strong catalyst of our imagination.

Imagination is the cradle of culture. The garden serves as a rich vein of sentimentality, and its openness (Massey 59) to the public brings together all the related elements, either natural or man-made, changing individual imagination into a cultural atmosphere. As Massey wrote, with new elements added to the place, new attachments will be set up between people and place, integrated with the existing characteristics (Massey 61). Landscape design based on profound cultural heritage brings strong visual impact or appeal to the garden. Excellent landscape design is like a lotus in the water to carve naturally, combining all kinds of landscape elements seamlessly (Zhang 113). Corresponded with the lotus of nobility, statues of solemnity, the pavilion of elegance and the coffee bar of mildness, the garden develops a unique culture of reverence and gentleness. The shared recognition of imagination forms the particular sense of place of a garden, which has a suggestive impact on everybody inside——we may watch our manners, keep quiet and get relaxed spontaneously. Surprisingly, we are both the authors and the readers of a place, for we attach meanings to a place through our imagination, and feel the implication of a place at the same time. We talk to a place by emotional attachment, and the place respond to us by means of culture, which is especially significant inside a garden.

During this bidirectional process, we acquire a comprehensive experience of the garden. And finally, we ourselves become a part of the place. In the lotus garden, some students scatter around or chat with their friends, while others take photographs of the pond or enjoy a cup of coffee. We all take our load off and have a pause, or some kind of escape from our busy studies. There is a very important principled stand that is the union of heaven and human in Chinese cultural traditions. That exactly shows what a garden wants to tell us, which gives us endless ideas and associations. This core idea guides the construction of a traditional garden, and it is the ingenious combination of natural environment, social organic thought and the double embodiment of material and spirit (Liuyuan 1). In a garden, natural landscapes are not an ornament or decoration anymore, but a medium of profound connotation. For example, the rockery near the pond is a highly generalized and condensed form of mountains and rivers, which keeps a lasting appeal and lingering elegance. Relatively, human beings are not the audience standing aside, but an integral part of the scenery. Ancient Chinese poets such as Li He and Meng Hao-jan are keen on synesthesia, which is an audiovisual combination of natural expression, and their immersion in the gardens make this unique rhetoric possible. Just as the saying goes, forget where the beauty lies, and blend into the beauty. This is the highest artistic realm pursued by Chinese traditional art——from limited to infinite, and then from infinite to limited, so as to achieve the natural expression of emotion and interest. The world view of the humanized nature has been brought into full display in the creation and design of gardens. In brief, a garden bridges the gap between man and nature, and provide us with a direct experience of eco-wisdom.

Our love of garden let us see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of our hand and eternity in an hour. A garden is a sacred place, where we can hover over our emotion, indulge ourselves in imagination, enjoy the nourishment of culture and share an experience of humanized nature. It whispers. It speaks.

Works Cited

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“Hui Shi.” Wikipedia.org. 31 July 2019. Web. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hui_Shi

Liuyuan. “Unity of Man and Nature in Gardens.” Sohu.com. 25, September, 2019. Web. Accessed 30 Nov. 2020. https://www.sohu.com/a/343228477_680285

“Lotus.” ReligionFacts.com. 27 Jan. 2017. Web. Accessed 24 Nov. 2020. www.religionfacts.com/lotus

Massey, Doreen. "The Openness of Places." A Place in the World? Places, Cultures and Globalization, Oxford University Press Inc., New York, 1995, pp.46-85.

Thompson, Ian. “Gardens, Parks and Sense of Place.” Making Sense of Place: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, edited by Ian Convery et al., vol. 7, Boydell & Brewer, Woodbridge, Suffolk; Rochester, NY, 2012, pp. 159–168. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt820r9.19. Accessed 13 Nov. 2020.

Tuan, Yi-Fu. “Place: An Experiential Perspective.” Geographical Review, Vol. 65, No. 2, American Geographical Society, April, 1975, pp.151-165. www.jstor.org/stable/213970. Accessed: 18-07-2018 20:34 UTC.

Zhang, Qie-yin. “A Discussion on the Landscape and Culture of Theme Park.” Journal of Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences (Social Sciences Edition), Vol.30 No.4, Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences, July, 2011, pp.113-115.

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