Lion Grove Garden is an exceptional example of a classical Chinese garden. Situated in the northeast of Suzhou, it is the only garden to have survived from the Yuan dynasty into the present. The garden is known for the humungous grotto of rocks its centre resembling lions, hence the name. Lion Grove Garden is one of four gardens representative of the classical style in Suzhou. UNESCO designated these gardens on its list of World Heritage Sites in 1997.
- Lion Grove Garden (also known as the Shizilin Garden) is located at 23 Yuanlin Road, in Pingjiang District, Suzhou.
- It comprises total area of 2.7 acres.
- It is one of nine gardens in the city that UNESCO deemed masterpieces of Chinese “Mountain and Water” gardens.
- The garden is renowned for its intricate 1,154 square metre grotto made of taihu rocks. Taihu is a kind of porous limestone found around Dongting Mountain in Suzhou, which is popularly used in garden construction.
History Of Lion Grove Garden
Lion Grove Garden was first constructed in 1342 during the Yuan dynasty (1271 to 1368). It was built by a Zen Buddhist monk, Wen Tianru, in memory of his master, Monk Zhongfeng. When it was first built, Lion Grove Garden was 6,670 square metres, and consisted of bamboo and rock. The lion-shaped taihu stones were emblematic of the lion in the ‘Lion’s Roar Sutra’ of early Buddhist texts. The lion-shaped rocks were also a reference to the Lion Peak on Tianmu Mountain near Hangzhou, were High Monk Zhongfeng attained nirvana.
After Wen Tianru’s death, Lion Grove Garden became dilapidated. However, in 1589 during the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644), another Buddhist monk, Mingxing, reconstructed it using collected donations. During the Qing dynasty, Emperor Kangxi paid a visit to the garden in 1703. Likewise, in 1765, Emperor Qianlong visited six times, and in 1765 left a personally inscribed plaque as a gift. Qianlong was so taken by the sheer beauty of the place, that he had a replica on the garden built in the Changchun garden, located in the Summer Palace.
Less than a century later, the governor of Hengzhou, Huang Xingzu purchased the garden, renaming it ‘She Garden’. In 1771, his son Huang Xi, reconstructed it and gave it the name ‘Garden of Five Pines’.
During the mid-19th century, Lion Grove Garden once again fell into disrepair. The Bei family purchased the garden in 1917, and undertook a major reconstruction. Completed in 1926, numerous structures and rocks have been preserved from that time. Lion Grove Garden was opened as a public park in 1956.
Culture Of Lion Grove Garden
Lion Grove Garden is sometimes referred to as the “Kingdom of Rockery”. Divided into two main sections, the garden contains a rockery surrounding a pond, and a housing complex. In total, there are 22 structures throughout the garden, and 13 species of rare, ancient trees some dating from the Yuan dynasty. The halls, pavilions, and other buildings in the park are celebrated for their exceptional architectural craftsmanship and design. The most famous and ornate pavilion in Lion Grove Garden is Zhenquting (True Delight Pavilion). Constructed in the royal architectural style, it houses the plaque inscribed by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty.
Drawn by its quite beauty, many artists and painters have gravitated to Lion Grove Garden throughout the centuries. ‘Pavilion for Greeting the Plum Blossoms’ (Wenmeige) as a place where many painters, poets, and writers came to work. Surrounded by a plum tree grove, all the furniture inside the pavilion is decorated with ornate plum blossom designs.
Lion Grove Garden houses many 25 rare tablets and 71 steles, in addition to precious paintings and calligraphies. Paintings from famous Ming dynasty artists Ni Zan (1301 to 1374), and Xu Ben are kept in the garden.
The 2.7-acre (1.1 ha) garden is most famous for its large, labyrinthine grotto of limestone rocks constructed to resemble lions. Covering 1,154 square metres, the grotto consists of nine winding pathways and 21 caverns across three levels. Its most famous attraction is the Lion Peak, which is surrounded by four other large rocks. Collectively, these form what is known as the ‘Famous Five Peaks’. According to legend in the Taoist pantheon, two of the Eight Immortals wandered through the labyrinthine maze of paths in Lion Grove, and became lost. Thereafter, Li Tieguai and Lü Dongbin sought refuge in a cave to play chess.
- Lion Grove Garden is open 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM, March 1 to October 15. From October 16 to the end of February, the garden is open from 7:30 AM to 5 PM.
- Ticket sales stop half an hour before the garden closes.
- Children under 3.9ft (1.2m) gain free admission when entering with an adult. Children betwixt 3.9 and 4.9ft (1.2 to 1.5m) pay half-price.
- Located in downtown Suzhou, Lion Grove Garden can easily be reached by taxi or public bus routes.