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Nan Lian: the unlikely garden

Nan Lian_1

Across a startling orange bridge the two-storey pavilion was clad in gold leaf that glowed, mirror-like in the midday heat. At its crown an umbrella-shaped canopy, frozen in gilded timber, dripped with miniature bells that dangled and chimed in quiet unison. Rows of manicured bonsai beckoned down the winding path, its sun-bleached bricks laid carefully in herringbone patterns. I stopped, basking in the sound of wind chimes tinkering softly in the breeze, and the melodious tones of a guzheng plucked by expert fingers – its source a hidden loudspeaker in the bushes.

Tucked away amid the flyovers and housing estates of northeastern Kowloon, Nan Lian Garden sits in a state of permanent calm, undisturbed by the presence of a nearby shopping mall and the busy entrance to Tate’s Cairn Tunnel. Harking back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), when China was at the height of its power, it was built less than ten years ago on the blueprint of Jiangshouju, a governor’s private garden some 250 km from Xi’an.

From the outset, Nan Lian struck me as looking far closer to classical Japanese than the well-known gardens of Suzhou. Records show that Japanese gardens of antiquity were heavily influenced by their Tang Dynasty counterparts, which used water as a dominant feature, creating miniature landscapes and borrowing views from the surrounding environment. Those aesthetics were adopted, pared down and continued by the Japanese, but over the ensuing centuries Chinese gardens would evolve in a very different manner.

On a terrace overlooking the main pond, an expat couple sat reading the South China Morning Post in the shade of a thatched pavilion. I joined the handful of visitors in a slow circuit around the immaculate grounds, already bristling with the earliest blossoms of spring. One by one we visited the rockery, a courtyard lined with potted landscapes (penjing), and a gallery of fine wooden models on the architecture of the Tang Dynasty. Before leaving, I took the raised stone walkway to Chi Lin Nunnery – itself a recent homage to China’s golden age.

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. A friend of mine who visited Nan Lian one month prior to my visit to HK recommended me this place. She really loved it and she said it’s very peaceful when she went. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to check this place out, and opted for Kowloon Park instead.

    March 12, 2013
    • It was sublime – especially on a warm, quiet weekday with few people about. Nan Lian is great for a momentary escape from the madness of the city.

      March 12, 2013
  2. Reblogged this on Bear Tales and commented:
    Great post and beautiful images.

    March 12, 2013
  3. That scarlet bridge is to die for, James! Fabulous post of a hidden gem I’d never have known about if not for you 🙂

    March 12, 2013
    • Glorious, isn’t it – that dazzling splash of colour amid all the foliage! It’s something to look forward to the next time you land in Hong Kong. 🙂

      March 13, 2013
  4. I LOVE the photo at the top. I want to print out a poster-sized copy of it and hang it up on the wall! Beautiful. I was also thinking that this garden looked really Japanese, just looking at the pictures–especially the orange bridge. I didn’t spend much time in Japan, but when I did, I saw a lot of orange at the temples and everything. Thanks for sharing!

    March 12, 2013
    • That’s one of my favourite shots; the garden would be a lot less interesting without those two landmarks. I also wonder if the golden pavilion was a nod to the one in Kyoto… it’s as if someone took a Japanese garden and dropped it right in the middle of Hong Kong!

      March 13, 2013
  5. I’ve been here. It is wonderful. I did a post on it last year I think. It was raining the day I was there but it was still lovely.

    March 12, 2013
    • I remember it well Deb – “A temple, a nunnery and a very orange bridge”. That was the post that inspired me to finally head over for a look, albeit a whole year later! Thanks for that. 🙂

      March 13, 2013
  6. Wow, that looks like an amzing place for a peaceful afternoon. I can just picture myself strolling there. Sitting down for a while. Strolling again. All in piece and quiet.

    March 14, 2013
    • It was really an oasis of calm in the middle of the city… a pretty mean feat as it’s enclosed by highways on three sides!

      March 17, 2013
  7. Beautiful

    March 15, 2013
    • And well worth a visit for anyone in Hong Kong. 🙂

      March 17, 2013
  8. Love the photos! Mid-city gardens give such a nice, peaceful break from the urban rush!

    March 19, 2013
    • Thanks Judi, glad you enjoyed the post!

      March 20, 2013
  9. Nan Lian garden does look remarkably Japanese, especially the orange bridge! We somehow didn’t make it there on our last visit. Isn’t there a tea house close by? Great post James. And wonderful photos. Love the contrasts in the roofscape shot 🙂

    March 21, 2013
    • Thank you, Madhu! Your posts inspired me to make use of the gallery mosaic. 🙂 Actually, there is a tea house right in the middle of the garden – perhaps it’s worth taking R there someday.

      March 21, 2013
  10. Those gardens are very beautiful, but also a bit sterile. All the rules!

    June 4, 2013

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