Connected \\ April 5, 2017
Asian Gardens at the Phillips Library
Recently, the Phillips Library had the pleasure of finding beautiful pictures of Asian gardens to display for a group visit. Natural history and Asian art are strengths of the PEM and Phillips Library, so we were able to pull an interesting selection of items. Before these images are put back into the vault, we simply had to share them with the world. The images that were selected here are from Chinese and Japanese gardens.
Hand colored illustrations of Japanese villa gardens, late nineteenth century (3)
Chinese gardens are often characterized as confusing and dense, dominated by huge rock piles and several buildings squeezed into small spaces, but they represent cosmic diagrams.  Chinese garden makers did not set out to copy parts of nature on a smaller scale, but to create a total landscape within a small space in a way which would utilize the qi, or ‘Vital Breath,’ that pulses through nature and affects human affairs.
This energy could be intensified by miniaturization (such as in penjing and Bonsai). This desire to concentrate qi explains some unique elements of Chinese gardens that sometimes confuse Westerners, such as the huge piles of connected rocks called jia shan, or ‘false mountains.’ 
For example, one of the key elements still found today in Chinese gardens is the ancient lake and island patterns. These are created in the image of the Isles of the Immortals, which has roots in folklore and Taoism/Daoism. This motif also has root in an imperial legend. In the 3rd century B.C., Emperor Qin Shi Huang (of terracotta army fame) wanted to find out the secrets of these Immortals. His expeditions to find their moving islands failed, so he tried to get them to come to him by building a great lake by his palace with islands so beautiful they would mistake them for their own.
The tea ceremony, an important part of many Asian cultures, is another influence of Asian garden design. The sixteenth century formalized the ceremony in tea and stroll gardens with paths specifically designed to lead to pavilions. Artistically placed stone paths both protected the plants from the stroller and the stroller’s attire from the ground. Stone lanterns allowed the tea ceremony to take place after dark. A primary objective of garden design was the positioning of the pavilion, where the tea ceremony took place. Besides the cultural and social aspects of the tea ceremony, it was also used to aid meditation for spiritual wellbeing.
Pavilion over ravine and bamboo grove in Chinese garden, circa 1949