Lush is More? – Reflections on a Chinese Garden

During my brief visit to Australia in 2015, I had occasion to walk through the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney, a gift in 1988 to that city from the citizens of Guangzhou in southern China. I know very little about Chinese or Japanese gardens, but they have always fascinated me. Is it true that for the former Lush is More, while for the latter Less is More? Am I right in thinking that this distinction, if it is apt, further reveals the influence of Taoism and Zen Buddhism respectively?

Be that as it may, the Chinese garden in Sydney left me with the impression of overflowing fecundity. But it was not the kind of wild profusion that Americans might anticipate. Nature did not take over here, as, for example, it tends to do in Frank Lloyd Wright’s captivating rural Pennsylvania home, Fallingwater, nestled deeply in a forest, precariously built on a slope over a waterfalls. There Lush is Everything. On the other hand, nature in the Sydney garden was not reduced to sparseness either, as it tended to be, as I recall, in the elegant Japanese garden I once visited in Portland, Oregon. There one encountered painstakenly pruned trees and well-shaped small flowering bushes, thoughtfully dispersed here and there amidst carefully-honed lawns of gravel, defined by a few larger boulders, small ponds, and winding, assiduously raked sand paths. For that Japanese garden, truly, Less is More.

As I explored the Chinese Garden, I encountered a world of natural fecundity. Apart from the ponds and the waterfalls and the sometimes steep paths covered with large flat stones, there was nary a square inch that was not covered with plantings of various kinds and heights and colors, from tall, overarching trees to bright, miniature azaleas. Even numbers of the plentiful large granite boulders were covered with creeping, small-leaved vines, thus bringing green to the grey. Still, I also experienced a harmonious human indwelling in that world of green. I sauntered into several variegated small ceremonial buildings, where one could pause, contemplate all the natural richness from a humanly constructed perspective, seeing through windowless frames, yet also speak softly but comfortably with a companion. Human society and human perspective were thus dramatically affirmed in the midst of all that natural fecundity. I was taken by both those elements, the lushness of nature and the organic place for humans to interact with one another as they contemplated that lushness. I concluded then and there that for me Lush is More. There, Lush is neither overwhelming, nor suppressed.   For me, the balance between the two was stunning.  For that moment, I could be myself.

On the other hand, I also reserve the right to lose my self in a wilderness experience, as I was once beckoned to do by Fallingwater or to gain my self in an experience of natural sparseness, as I was once invited to do by the Japanese Garden in Portland. If Lush is More, as I believe it is, it is also true, for me, that Lush is Everything and that Less is More.

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