China Tour 2013
April 10th – 23rd, 2013

April 18th As we left today for Suzhou we all commented on the fact that we were extremely fortunate to have been able to visit the peony festival when we did as strong winds descended on us and could only think of all the petals that would be blowing in the wind today. It was almost like a dust storm was headed our way. As we got further out of the city it eased and as we drove to the Zhengzhou airport it just got cooler. It is quite amazing to see all the building that is going on here and huge projects too. Many people out planting trees along the roadways and many fileds full of wheat and all kinds of vegetables. After a great but quick lunch we headed to the airport to check in. Our flight was delayed for almost an hour while they changed a tire on the plane…first time for that! We boarded and headed off with some winds to deal with in the air but landed safely in Shanghai and off on the coach to Suzhou, about an hour away. We decided to have dinner before checking into the hotel. It was in the old part of Suzhou and a wonderful place to walk around and visit all the shops too! Settled in for the night and tomorrow some serious sightseeing…

April 19th
As I was sitting in the breakfast area looking out onto the landscaped grounds I could not help but think how peaceful and serene the Chinese gardens are. Round keyhole doorways leading where? To another vista, another secret spot to discover. Walking around and seeing the trees all in their green glory is so refreshing for a gardener. They are in for a treat today and the next few as we discover some of the classical Chinese gardens of Suzhou and Shanghai. The hotel is wonderful…right in the old area where it is hustle and bustle but here it is calm and restful. People out in the gardens doing Tai Chi to the soft music playing in the background. Birds fluttering from tree to tree….very peaceful indeed.

The Pan Pacific Suzhou is within the walled city moat and from our rooms we can see the Ruiguang Pagoda dating back 2,500 years to the Wu Kingdom.

Our first visit to day was to the famous Tiger Hill gardens with its leaning pagoda built in 961.

In 514 BC, during the Spring and Autumn Period, King Helu of Wu established the "Great City of Helu", the ancient name for Suzhou, as his capital. In 496 BC, Helu was buried in Hugqiu (Tiger Hill). Tiger Hill is named for the mystical white tiger who is said to have sat upon the grave of King Helu.

It is a wonderful garden to visit and should be the first garden people visit when here in Suzhou. It is a huge area and full of wonderful vistas, stone displays, bonsai, trees and shrubs. Each time I have visited there has been a special display here during the peony festival. Each time here I have seen the mix of both artificial and real plants and flowers. In the wrong setting it can look a bit tacky but here in China it just seems to be the way it is and all Chinese love coming here to visit the floral displays, whether they are real or not. There are many real pots of flowers but the floral designs seem to use a lot of artificial flowers as well…and yes the pots of plants are everywhere in China…this is just the way they do it here. You can watch a whole display come together in hours with their use of potted plants. The Potted Garden is really the Bonsai Garden and here you will find some of the most beautiful bonsai..many are azalea and were in their full colourful glory making for a sight to behold.

Tiger Hill was also the site where ancient tea expert Lu Yu penned his “Classic of Tea”—the first published book about the art of the brew. The water in the area is particularly good for making tea, according to his treatise. Today you will still find the tea fields down below the pagoda and it is just a remarkable place to walk and take photos.

The classical gardens here are all under UNESCO World Heritage and Suzhou is famous for the silk it produces as we will discover tomorrow. It was home to many important scholars, writers, artists, and ministers. The city’s many beautiful gardens bear witness to its standing.

Then we took a nice boat ride along one of the smaller canals and into the grand canal. The longest canal in the world was completed during the Sui Dynasty (581-618 B.C.) and stretches for 1,776 kilometers (1,103 mi). The canal was actually begun close to Suzhou, when King Fuchai of Wu decreed that a trade route be created when he conquered the Qi State. As it passes through Suzhou, the Grand Canal is called Jiangnan. It was nice to see that the government is paying to have all these canal houses fixed up and painted. It is a very special site to see while in Suzhou.
After lunch it was a visit to the Humble Administrators Garden - It was originally the garden of a Tang dynasty scholar, but was turned over to the Dahong Temple in the Yuan era. In 1513 it was acquired by a former governor who transformed it into a beautiful landscaped garden with the help of an artist friend. Willing to pass the twilight of his life enjoying simple pleasures instead of the privileges of imperial life, he is the “humble administrator” of the garden’s name. The landscaping work was completed in 1526, forming one of the loveliest Ming-era gardens in the country. It covers 52,000 square meters (560,000 sq. ft.) and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Then we visited the I.M.Pei designed Suzhou Museum

It is divided into three sections. The centre includes the entrance, the hall and the main garden, the West Wing is the exhibition area and the East Wing belongs to administration offices and education area. The layout of three axes is matching the style of Prince Zhong's Mansion. The whitewashed plaster wall with dark gray clay tile is the construction characteristic of Suzhou. The new museum adopts it as the primary colors. Instead of using traditional clay tiles, the roof is made of gray granite with uniformed colours. Modern steel structure is applied to the new museum to replace traditional roof beam structure. The interior is decorated with wooden frames and white ceiling. In addition, metal sunscreens with wooden panels instead of traditional carved windows lattice are introduced to make the new museum more sophisticated. It is a lovely museum to visit and worthy of your time spent here. The displays are exceptional.

Next door to this, located on Dongbei Street, Prince Zhong’s Mansion was built by Taiping Heavenly Kingdom in 1860. After Taiping Heavenly Kingdom captured Suzhou, they rebuilt Humble Administrator's Garden and houses nearby to make a mansion for Li Xiucheng, or Prince Zhong. A precious colorful painting of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom on a girder has been well preserved.

Outside the entrance stand two pagoda trees, Saphora japonica. They are 299 years old! Only high ranking officials could have them in their gardens as they signified power and they were used to keep the evil spirits from entering.

They were also grown in the Imperial gardens.

Zhong Wang Fu is the most well-preserved historical architecture of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (1851-1864). The architectural complex of Zhong Wang Fu covers an area of 10,650 square meters (114,636 square ft). Different from the magnificent large-scale imperial gardens in North China, the mansion is well known for its exquisiteness with small bridges, flowing streams, bizarre stones and exuberate plants. The essence of Zhong Wang Fu is the principal part: the government office. There are more than 400 elegant color decorations with unique Suzhou style, 9 vivid mural paintings, and elaborate panes carved with dragons and phoenixes. Located in the hindmost Zhong Wang Fu, the Humble Administrator's Garden is the representative of Suzhou gardens as well as one of the four famous gardens in China (the other three are the Summer Palace in Beijing, the Imperial Mountain Summer Resort in Chengde City and the Lingering Garden in Suzhou).


  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row