University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Perennial Publications : Book of the Month

Gardens in China
Peter Valder.  2002.  Timber Press, hardcover, 400pp.

Unlike most other books on Chinese gardens that deal mainly with the well-known gardens, and characteristic Chinese garden elements, this book puts more emphasis on lesser known gardens and parks and the plants.  The book begins with another unique chapter to such books-- a discussion of Chinese gardens as seen through other writers and visitors over the last century and a half.  The majority of the book has five chapters, suggested by the five elements as the foundation of Chinese cosmology.  These chapters each cover gardens in five regions-- the north, south, east, west, and center.  Most of the 200 horticultural sites described, along with some facts about their regions and locales, are illustrated with the author's photos and even some older photos and illustrations.  The author is a retired botanist from New South Wales, who has written and spoken widely in his country on plants, and traveled ten times to China to study its plants and gardens.

The author of course mentions the famous gardens of emperors and high officials, but only in brief as these are the ones treated almost exclusively in other texts.  Instead he covers gardens of courtyards and temples, ancient burial grounds and tombs, public parks, botanical gardens, and arboreta.  His writing is very personal, conversational, and readable, as if one were reading a travel journal.

This award-winning reference is a great addition to ones collection on many levels-- whether planning a trip to China or having been; wishing to learn more of their gardens of the recent past and probably never having the chance to go there; learning more about the culture and horticulture and even history of this important country (a bookmark is included of the Chinese dynasties to help while reading in keeping them straight and placed in time); or just wanting to travel vicariously through the author's photos and writings to this exotic land.

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