The New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden
Staten Island, New York
On the grounds of Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden lies a hidden retreat, The New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to visit this natural refuge that shifted my mind from my busy to-do list and transported me to a place contemplation and relaxation.
Travel back to the days of Imperial China, the era of dynasties, when powerful emperors ruled the vast country. These emperors needed government officials to help govern China’s affairs and thus the role of a scholar was created. To obtain the prestigious position of a scholar, a person would study a range of subjects before taking an exam. Upon passing this exam, one would then be considered a scholar. A day in the life of an imperial scholar was extremely stressful! To manage this stress, scholars usually had gardens built as a relaxing retreat -- think of a “staycation”.
The purpose of these scholars’ gardens were to promote peace; encapsulating the Eastern ideals that harmony should exist between man and nature. When visiting the New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden that ideal is shown through the traditional features of a Chinese garden. Unlike the European gardens that are displayed throughout Snug Harbor, the Chinese Scholar’s Garden doesn’t conform to the beauty of symmetrical layouts or neatly trimmed foliage and lawns. In fact, the architectural features of the Chinese Scholar’s Garden appear to flow with the natural landscape; ultimately highlighting the raw beauty of the environment. The result of this design feels as if you are truly immersed in nature; there is a sense of balance and wholeness. Instinctively, you want to pause and admire your surroundings.
After this illuminating experience, I was curious about the characteristics that made the visit feel special. I discovered that an authentic Chinese garden consists of four main features:
Providing the garden with strength and stability, rocks are selected for their shape, size, and color are found in every Chinese garden. The most valued rocks are limestones because of their eroded states as they serve as decoration inside some of the garden’s buildings. Large mountainous rocks are found in the gardens and usually for aesthetic appeal.
Water is an important element in Chinese culture, just think of the philosophy of 5 elements. The theme of water can usually be found throughout a Chinese garden. Ponds, although usually found in the center of the garden, can also be found throughout the garden. These ponds are usually home to aquatic lotus plants and fish such as goldfish or carp.
Chinese gardeners select plants, flowers, and trees based on their shape, balance, and even fragrance! In the New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden, among a variety of flowers, you will find plants known as the 3 Plants of Winter. These plants are bamboo, pine trees, and plum trees. They are special because they all flourish and endure in the winter when all other plants are wither.
The places of contemplation, conversation, and meditation. The structures found in Chinese gardens are built to complement the landscape. Typically, the gardens are enclosed within a white wall that accentuates the nature around it. Pavilions, tea houses, libraries, bridges and galleries are strategically built around the garden often blending in with the environment.
The beauty of the New York Scholar’s Garden is displayed through the meticulously crafted and unique characteristics of Eastern ideals; beliefs that reflect that we should not control nature, but should connect with our surroundings.
If you are looking for a peaceful place to relax or just interested in experiencing the natural beauty of an authentic Chinese scholar’s garden, come visit The New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden. I guarantee it will be a worthwhile experience!
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Samantha is currently a student studying English in NYC. She loves culture, literature, and art. She can enjoys visiting museums, loitering in bookstores, and attending Comic Cons, Book Cons, and other geeky events.