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Yu Garden (Shanghai, China)

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      09.12.2012 22:50
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      A pretty garden founded by the Pan Family

      Having already written about the YuYuan Bazaar I thought I had better mention the accompanying gardens which are a separate attraction rather than being part of the bizarre. Just before I entered the gardens I picked up a map and it was very useful and helped a lot with my navigation around the small but complex garden. I had been warned by colleagues that the gardens are very popular and soon fill up with visitors from late morning onwards. I left our hotel about 9am, this was a good time, there were some people in the gardens strolling slowly around, some were sitting and others were practicing their exercises in what looked like slow motion.

      The display of trees is a fine one and amongst the rockeries, ponds and stoney alcoves you will find species like the Luohan Pine, bushy with thick pine needles, weeping willows, trees heavily laden with magnolia flowers. I have always liked bamboo and the sound the wind makes as it whistles through the leaves of the plant. It reminded me of when I lived in Portugal as we had bamboo lining the river behind our house in the Algarve and the sounds on a windy day were evocative. There are lots of sweet smells to inhale when walking around the gardens, these come from jasmine petals and some of the cherry trees.

      There are many ponds scattered around but I wouldn't say the water was exactly glistening. The ones I looked into were definitely cloudy and full of big, fat carp. Most of the fish were orange but there were some with brown mottled patterns, these were difficult to pick out due to the colour of the water. There were so many swimming and gliding around in circular patterns I found the pond scenes a bit creepy, I'm not so sure I like carp even if these were different to the ones Poles eat on Christmas Eve. There was something about their eyes, big and bulging. They definitely made me feel a bit uneasy.

      YuYuan is a very good example of a Ming garden design and originally took 18 years to develop and grow. The Pan Family was the founder. The gardens have been restored from the attacks and destruction caused firstly during the Opium War in 1842 and secondly during the Taiping Rebellion by the French in retaliation for attacks on their Concession District which is close by.

      It was a shame that my husband didn't accompany me to the Gardens as he would have loved all the rockeries; this has always been his favourite gardening style. One rock that stands out is called the Jade Rock and is the centre piece of a set display of three rocks. All three rocks are twisted and deformed in shape, filled with holes but the centrepiece has over 70 holes that look like they have been blasted there with a pea shooter. These holes and shapes have been formed due to erosion and are extremely interesting and decorative. The rockery below them is covered with wispy ferns and other trailing, flowering plants that fall gently into the water of the pond. The Jade Rock stands at 11 feet high. The plan was to take the rock to Beijing so it could be on show at the Imperial Court but the boat didn't get that far, it sank just outside Shanghai's harbour.

      Two other main attractions that caught my eye were the Hall of Heralding Spring and a beautiful antique stage dating back from 1888 with a ceiling carved in gold .The Hall used to be the headquarters of the Small Swords Society way back in 1853 and during the revolution in the 60s the society protected the gardens from being violated.

      YuYuan Gardens are a delight to walk around and somewhere relaxing if you go early enough and miss the crowds. Afterwards you can go to the famous teahouse, Lake Mid Pavillion and have a brew made from leafed tea. This is near the entrance and was once part of the garden complex. The pathway leading to the entrance is patterned and forms a zig zag design. If you don't fancy a cuppa then the bazaar is close by where you can pick up a Chinese fan, kite, mask, pair of silk pyjamas or join the queue to eat in the Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant (more about this later).

      I enjoyed my visit although, I think I was lucky with my timing and if I had ventured out in the afternoon would have come head on with tourists skillfully wielding their cameras around. There is an admission charge which costs the equivalent of £3 for an adult and a £1 for a child. Last tickets have to be purchased by 5pm.

      The gardens are open every day from 8.30am to 5.30pm.

      Metro Stop: YuYuan Garden

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