The Humble Administrator’s Garden is the largest of Suzhou’s four classical gardens and the only one with out a tea house.
The origin of the Humble Administrator Garden’s history can be traced back to the late 8th century during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) when it was the residence of scholar Lu Guimeng. During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) the garden became the monastery garden of the Dahong temple.
The garden was “appropriated” (legally stolen) by Wang Xiancheng, a senior public servant who not surprisingly was under investigation by the secret police of that time. Most likely for fraud, embezzlement, abuse of power and stealing gardens. Wang Xiancheng had the Humble Administrator’s Garden built over the top of the old temple and monastery garden.
Wang is said to have built the garden so he could live a humble life there gardening, planting trees and tending to vegetables. Considering that the garden is said to cost a boat load of silver and taken 16 years to make, there is very little humble about it.
Ironically Wang’s son had to pawn the garden to pay his gambling debts. Since then the garden changed owner ship many times and was broken up over time with the eastern section sold in 1631 and the central section sold in 1738. Each section of the garden was extensively renovated by its new owners. The present division of the garden into eastern, middle and western sections is based on the gardens original break up in 1631 and 1738.
It was not until the liberation of China in 1949 that the three separate parts of the garden were united.
Grounds & Layout
The Humble Administrator’s Garden is largest of the Suzhou classical gardens with an area of 5.2 hectares. The size and scope of the garden makes it feel more like a decent sized park than a classical garden. The combination of ponds, bridges, islands and buildings and the way they are all interconnected is very well done.
Eastern Section – This section dominated by hills, stretches of grass, and bamboo and pine forests with winding streams running through it. The main attractions here are Cymbidium Goengii Hall, the Pinery Lawn, the Celestial Spring Pavilion and the House of Sweet Smelling Rice.
The Celestial Spring Pavilion houses a small well and is named after the well’s spring water which is meant to taste very sweet.
Pinery Lawn has a little open bungalow and a deck with chairs that looks exceedingly comfortable and inviting. Naturally this area is off limits of to tourists.
The house of Sweet Smelling Rice is a rest area containing classic furniture and has a China Post Kiosk. No one has been able to tell me where this name comes from. I’m guessing this building used to be the kitchen/restaurant for the garden.
Central Section – This area is the heart of the garden and dominated by ponds and interconnected islands. The main building here is the Hall of Distant Fragrance. In summer the gardens lotus flowers are in bloom and the fragrance from those flowers can be smelt in the Hall of Distant Fragrance. The gold fish in the ponds here are enormous and in very large numbers. There are many little pagodas in this area that have tables and chairs and are ideal for picnics.
Western Section – This section is dominated by a very large hall that has been divided by a gigantic screen into two parts, the 19 Camellias Hall and the 36 pairs Mandarin Duck’s Hall. Also in this section is the Bonsai Garden and the Mountain In the View Tower.
Mountain In the View Tower stands on a little peninsula on an island on the west side of the garden. The name of this tower comes from a verse by poet named Tao Yuanming.
The Bonsai Garden holds over 700 Bonsai plants and represents Suzhou style Bonsai which is one of the four leading styles of Bonsai plants in China.
The Humble Administrator’s Garden is in the centre of Suzhou city just south of the train station and right next to the Lion Grove Garden. You can get to the garden by tourist buses 1, 2 and 5 and public buses 178, 202 and 309.
Suzhou city is not very large so if you are already in the inner city, you can easily walk to Humble Administrator’s Garden.
Tickets, hours and time needed
With a ticket price of 70rmb, the Humble Administrator’s Garden is the most expensive attraction in Suzhou. The high price is most likely due to the size of the garden and the high maintenance costs. This price also includes a free guide if you are not a member of a tour group and entry into the Bonsai garde.
The garden is open from 7:30 to 5:30 and you can easily be in the garden for half a day enjoying it. 2-3 hours is the minimum time I would recommend to make the most of this garden. I suggest you pack some food and drink and find a spot in the garden for a delightful lunch or snack.