In 2010, my wife and I took a month-long trip touring South China on our own. We started in Hong Kong and ended in Shanghai. We saw a lot of penjing and viewing stones, and I will share their photos in a series of travel blogs, starting with the Nan Lian Garden (南莲园池) in Hong Kong.
Nan Lian Garden is a gem where one can still enjoy tranquility in this bustling city. It is a public park, built in the style of a Tang dynasty garden and modeled after a 1,300 years old garden, Jiang Shouju Yuan (绛守居园池) , in Shanxi, China. It occupies 3.5 hectares, and is landscaped with hills, rocks, lakes, plants and Tang style Chinese timber architecture. There are several exhibits in the garden. I will highlight their Lingnan penjing collection, the Dahua Viewing Stone Museum, and take you through a walk in the garden which has very impressive Pordacarpus trees.
It is a very beautiful place and we spent our time there leisurely. There are a lot of photos to show in this blog.
Dahua Stone Museum
This museum has some of the most beautiful and very large Dahua stones (大化石) I have ever seen. Dahua stones were first discovered in 1997 from the river bed of the Red River (红河) of Dahua County, Guangxi Province, China. Since the completion of a hydroelectric dam in Red River, Dahua stones could only be found in a 6 km stretch of the river down stream from the dam. These stones are silicaeous and jade-like, and have a hardness of 5-7 on the Moh scale. They are sedimentary rocks with high iron and manganese contents, which give them reddish- to golden-brown colors. They were formed about 250-300 million years ago during the Permian period, and are naturally polished by the fast flowing river.
Two cascading Fukien Tea penjing graced the entrance as if they are welcoming the visitors to the museum
There are two very large Dahua stone group arrangements on sand beds.The sand was raked with circular wave patterns to portray the stones as islands. Although these stones are very impressive with various shades of ocher, and with layers upon layers of folds smoothed by the force of water, I wished they could be placed outdoors and set further apart such that the viewers could take in a more panoramic view of these massive stones at a distance. However, it is understandable land is a precious commodity in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, their groupings follow examples illustrated in the”Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Paintings“.
The manual shows how 14th century Yuan dynasty landscape painting artists, Huang Gongwang 黄公望 and Nizan 倪瓒, grouped stones as tubo 土波 (doha in Japanese for those familiar in suiseki). One can easily see the similarity between the above Dahua stone arrangement and Huang and Nizan painted a tubo.
Several smaller stones were displayed in alcoves on beds of sand, accompanied by Chinese calligraphic scrolls.
Some Lingnan penjing were displayed outside the stone museum, but the more impressive ones were in the courtyard of the adjacent Chi Lin Nunnery.
Chi Lin Nunnery
The Chi Lin Nunnery (志连净苑) is a large temple complex with elegant Tang style wooden architecture built entirely without iron nails. Although it is a separate organization but the Nunnery is adjoined to the Nan Lian Garden.
Upon entering entering the main gate, a Tang style temple hall come into view, flanked by the Bell and Drum towers and large penjing along both side of the walkway. Two very large bougainvillea penjing full of hot pink flowers stood out among the podocarpus.
The size of these two penjing are astounding. I have my wife posed besides one to give a scale to their sizes. They are humongous and definitely require a forklift to move.
The penjing at the Nunnery are all large and outstanding. As we strolled along the walkways and the surrounding halls, we quickly noticed most of the penjing are displayed in pairs with one on the left and another on the right; and most of these pairs were styled with a major floating branch extending out as if the trees were extending their welcoming arms to visitors, inviting people to come in. In addition, their main trunks tipped towards the direction of the floating branches, and gave a humble feeling of the trees, most befitting of a nunnery gardern.
Lingnan Penjing Techniques
Lingnan penjing originated in South China’s Guandong Province, and is practiced in Hong Kong, Macau and by many overseas Chinese. They are primarily shaped by the clip-and-grow method, which gives branches more angular bends compared to the sinuous curvatures of branches shaped using wires. Below is a fully defoliated Chinese elms showing the developed gnarly branches.
One of the benefits of visiting bonsai and penjing gardens is to learn about the techniques. Here are some of the Lingnan penjing used in these trees.
Trees and Shrubs in the Nan Lian Garden
The garden is landscaped with many old Podocarpus, trees and other kind of stones.