The garden conference last Saturday was amazing!! It was really interesting to learn about gardens and garden designs in the Ming Dynasty, during the 15th century, and the turn it took in 17th century China. Garden designs began in the Ming Dynasty with Zhang Nanyang. His style was that of “Massive structure,” designing the gardens with massive rocks, and flowing streams, mimicking large, enormous land forms like mountains in smaller formations of land like gardens. It was quite impressive to see the craftsmanship and detail that was put into designing and forming those structures! Then, Chinese gardens became more focused on borrowing from the already existing landscape to create something even more naturalistic. This change departed from the large formations, which were quite axial and geometric, to more natural layouts of landscapes. Garden designers like Ji Cheng or Zhang Lian showed this more natural style, working with what the land has to offer.
I would like to make a connection to the farming and gardening movement in mane that is happening now. Similar to the “Massive structure” style of gardening in in the Ming Dynasty, there is large mono-crop farming happening here. Although these modern day “gardens” are for production and not for show, we still see that these are huge structures, based on putting in infrastructure in order to make the landscape become something that we want. However, now there is a smaller organic farming/gardening movement (strongly growing in Maine), which has many of the qualities of the more naturalistic Chinese style of gardens because they both use what is already there in order to create something. Right now, in Maine, we are in the liminal space between these two times, between the “large and massive structure” and the smaller more focused naturalistic structures in gardens.