The Couple Garden Retreat
(Ou Yuan)
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The Couple's Garden Retreat
Source: Suzhou Gardens, China Architecture & Building Press

The original name was Sheyuan, also called Xiaoyu Lin. Construction started during the Qing dynasty's Yongqian period (1723-1795 A.D.) It was built by Lu Jin, the prefect of Baoning district. In the 13th year of the Tongzhi period (1874 A.D.) it was bought by Shen Bingcheng, the official of Susong. He expanded its area and divided it into a western and eastern part; he changed the name to the Couple's Garden Retreat. The meaning of its name refers to the garden's two parts as well as to that of a couple.
The Couple's Garden Retreat is located in Xiaoxin Qiaoxiang, Loumen Nei, in the north-eastern part of the city. It occupies 0.8 hectare. It has water on three sides, and is rectangular in shape. The classical gardens of Suzhou can be divided into a residential and a garden part. A residence in the middle, with garden on both sides, is special for this garden. One of the gardens makes use of yellow stones, and the other makes use of lake stones, with their own style.
The eastern part of the garden is the most splendid; the landscape's arrangement is based on yellow stone rockeries, with ponds, and flowers and trees added. In order to show high mountains and deep ponds, the buildings are pushed to brinks of the garden, since the garden's area only occupies 0.33 hectare. The rockeries are divided into primary and secondary ones; the primary are located in the east; on top is a stone house; the secondary are found in the west; on top is a platform. Between these two parts is a gorge called "Suigu"with a width of only 1 metre. Both sides are very steep, with the walls stretching down into the pond, adding both steepness and forcefulness. The combination of rockery and water is both soft and strong, expressing the the harmonious beauty of mother nature.

The Couple Garden Retreat


Surrounded by the canal from three sides, the Couple's Garden Retreat has piers close to the front and back entraces. The housing complex, located in the middle and flanked by the East and West Garden, consists of four buildings in succession and is joined with the gardens by muti-storied buildings.

The East Garden has a dominant "mountain" rising from a pond. The pavilions, terraces and towers are centered upon the mountain. The Thatched Cottage at the City Corner, a principal structure of the garden, is made up of a group of double-roofed and muli-storied buildings, fronting a very natural and realistic yellowstone mountain, running from east to ewst, piled up by the great master Zhang Nanyang at the end of the Ming Dynasty. To the south of the pond is the Amongst Mountains and Water Pavilion. Made of ormosia wood in the Ming Dynasty, the circular door frame of the pavilion, about 4 m. across and 3.5 m. high, was carved with an open-work picture of "Three Friends in the Dead of Winter", namely pine, bamboo and prunus mume instinct with life, an art treasure of this sort in the classical gardens of Suzhou.

The West Garden consists of studies, pavilions and garden courts. One enters the garden and gets a glimpse of limestone mountains with caves connected up with each other below and an undulating wall above, which encloses and divides space. To the north of the mountains is the Old House with Woven Curtains, at the rear of which there's a study, a "L" shaped tower used as a library, decorated with rocks, trees and flowers in front.

The Couple's Garden Retreat has 24 buildings, 21 tablets and parallel couplets, 10 brick carvings, and 7 valuable old trees such as pinus bungeana Zucc, pinus thunbergii Parl, wisteria sinensis Sweet, etc.