It seems to me, from the little I have learned, that many historic gardens were created to address certain questions:
Half Garden: Can half a garden still be called a garden?
Paired Garden: When the two halves of a double garden are joined, do they become a single garden?
After Garden: If a garden has been riven of part of its whole, is it still a garden?
Unfinished Garden: If it is certain that a garden can never be completed, will it ever be a garden?
But after I encountered the abandoned garden, I realised that my years of delving into gardens had yielded nothing more than the fragmentary remains of their creation. The work of moving dirt and building paths, channelling water and stacking stone – I had barely started to turn my hand to fundamental tasks such as these.
Although this garden had stood so long in ruins, its bones still revealed the essence of the classical gardens of the south. Weeds and rubble filled every corner, but underneath this seemingly placid surface lay an indescribable sense of unrest. This only served to further pique my explorer’s heart.
Once I entered the abandoned garden, it seemed that I was constantly postponing the pleasures of exploration by walking more and more slowly. In truth, the garden’s exit could no longer be discerned, and I was almost swallowed up inside it.
No trace remains of the garden’s name.
I think this garden must have been created by the master builder Ji Cheng. How else can the subtlety and elegance at which it hints be explained?
I’ve almost concluded that it was built during the latter half of the seventeenth century, the period that historians say marked the first appearance of Chinese capitalism.
After a close reading of Ji Cheng’s masterpiece, The Craft of Gardens, I’m even more convinced that this garden must be his:
Stones piled high . . . delving into the earth, trees cling to the mountain, roots grasp rock, evoking a painting. Rising from water, pavilions are scattered across the land. Deep ravines and flying walkways all give rise to the unexpected.
These clues gave me a powerful compass for roaming the garden, enabling me to reflect upon every aspect of its construction and use my fragmentary words to restore it to its original form.
I have come to a realisation. Not just my own but every individual’s personal history can be the entrance to a garden. Everyone wanders these gardens in their own fashion and finds their own pathways as they roam. Although the exit may be vanishingly distant, there is no danger of getting lost here. Delighting in their wanderings, people create the gardens of their hearts. As for me, I will record everything I can about this garden, to share with others in years to come.
At any point in the future or any point in the past, the essence of a garden remains the same. I may be offered a glimpse of a lost landscape, but still it remains forever lost.
Just like the ruins of a garden, the maze of history will not be fully opened to us anymore.
Text © 2012 the Author and The Pavilion