Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden

It’s #1 on National Geographic’s City Gardens list. In their 2011 Secret Journeys of a Lifetime. 500 of the World’s Best Hidden Travel Gems, the National Geographic team writes: ‘Some of the world’s most fascinating gardens lie hidden, like little-known oases, in the middle of busy cities. For the largest Chinese garden outside China visit Vancouver…named for Chinese Republican leader Sun Yat-Sen. Relish ever changing views through latticework frames, or ‘leak windows.’

Hidden gem is right. You could walk up and down the surrounding Chinatown streets, day after day, and not realize that this beautiful, peaceful garden is hidden behind an interior courtyard. Opened in 1986, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden was designed to look like the private Ming Dynasty gardens of the city of Suzhou.

Joe Wai – a Vancouver architect – worked with landscape architect, Don Vaughan, and 53 experts from Suzhou to create this Classical Scholar’s Garden. To ensure its authenticity, the team used ancient tools and techniques, and tiles, woodwork, windows, rocks and pebbles from China. The fossil limestone rocks from China’s Lake Tai are a Rorschach test of their own. What do you see in them?

Integral to the design of the garden are Daoist principles of yin and yang – hard finds its match in soft, light in dark, tiny in grand. You’ll notice the murky jade green of the surrounding waters, a colour designed to maximally reflect the surrounding buildings and plants. Good-luck bat shapes sneak their way into floor, tiles, doors, windows.

Particularly striking are all of the different views into the garden – down the Double Corridor, through the lattice windows, from the Scholar’s Courtyard, or The Lookout. People find their own secret spots – under a hanging tree, on a quiet wooden bench – to read, draw, think, meditate.

Like most classical Suzhou Scholar’s Gardens, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen balances human-built buildings with rocks, water, plants, and words. You can peer over at the garden from the facing, public Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park with its dramatic bamboos and volcanic rocks from Mexico.

Written by Elizabeth Newton




Acacia Cresswell

Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton