Lion Grove Garden Suzhou

Mid-lake in the Lion Forest Garden

Mid-lake in the Lion Forest Garden by Jonathan. Sourced via Flickr under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License.

The Lion Grove is a classical Chinese garden like no other. Its most notable feature being the extraordinary large number of stone installations made from naturally carved rocks. These either come from river or from lake beds. The stones form a large maze of paths, tunnels and caves throughout the garden. There is a folktale about two immortals, Iron-Crutch Li and Lü Dongbin who wandered into the maze of the Lion Grove and being unable to exit settled in a cave to play chess. Many of the stones are thought to resemble lions in various posses giving the garden it's name. The garden is recognized with other classical Suzhou gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A Yuan dynasty Zen Buddhist monk, Wen Tianru, built the garden in 1342 in memory of htis teacher Abbot Zongfeng. It is the sole surviving example of the famous rock-gardens. The garden was originally part of the Bodi Orthodox Monastry (Puti Zhengzong). The original garden covered 6,670 square metres and was made up of rock and bamboo. After the death of Tianru, the garden fell into disrepair until in 1589 when Mingxing, another Buddhist monk, rebuilt the garden. It was then bought by the magistrate of Hengzhou and hist son Huang Xi rebuilt the garden again in 1771 and changed its name to the Garden of Five Pines. The garden again fell into disrepair through the later half of the nineteenth century. Bei Runsheng purchased and restored the garden in 1917 with the restoration being completed by 1926. Many of the buildings and rocks date form this latter restoration. The garden was donated by the Bei family to the government in 1949. In 1956 the garden was opened to the public.

The garden's design attracted the attention of notable visitors such as the painter Ni Zan in 1373 CE, who created Picture Scroll of Lion Grove painting. In 1703 CE Emperor Kangxi visited the garden and was followed in 1765 by Emperor Qianlong visited the garden and left the personally inscribed True Delight tablet as gift. He also had a copy of the garden made in the Changchun garden of the Summer Palace and at the Chengde Mountain Resort.

The modern day garden covers 1.1 ha of land. It is divided into two main sections. One part is predominantly buildings with courtyards, the other is a rockery set around a central pond. There are some 22 buildings in the garden along with 25 tablets, 71 stelae, 5 carved wooden screens and 13 ancient tree specimens. A few of these date all the way back to the Yuan dynasty. The famous grotto maze of Taihu stones takes up 1154 square metres. It contains nine paths that wind through, above and below each other creating 21 caves. A pond divides the stone grotto into east and west sections. Many of the stones are themselves famous and named including the most famous, the Lion Peak, surrounded by four other stones, Han Hui, Xuan Yu, Tu Yue, and Ang Xiao, which collectively form the Famous Five Peaks.

Map showing location of Lion Grove Garden Suzhou

Above: Location of Lion Grove Garden Suzhou in Suzhou, Jiangsu, China