“If you want to be happy forever,” says the Chinese proverb, “make a garden.” For over 2,000 years the Chinese have done just that, using four components –plants, rocks, buildings, and water — to create a sanctuary of contemplation and serenity where you can escape the stress of the world. Exactly what New York City needs!
Fortunately, there is such a place hidden away in the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden on Staten Island. This is the Chinese Scholars Garden, a perfect replica of a garden from the 13th century Ming dynasty. Entirely designed and created in China before being shipped to the US, 40 artists and artisans from Suzhou, China took six months to recreate the garden on Staten Island. It is rich in symbolism with every item having its own significance and reflecting the Chinese view of the world.
Enter the garden through a Second Empire Victorian Cottage (No 5) on Cottage Row. Wander through a thicket of bamboo and into a walled enclosure where an ornate wooden screen shields the garden from the outside. Behind it, a reflective pond surrounded by walkways and a building, partially jutting over the water, draws you to a circular moon window. Admire the courtyard on the other side where another pond, set amidst scalloped walls, beckons you. A small, curved bridge takes you over the water between persimmon trees. Look down at your feet where intricate stone mosaics pave the way to your next discovery.
Down a walkway is the Moon Viewing Pavilion, overlooking a bubbling stream and waterfall. A carved stone table and four stools provide a resting place to gaze upon the surrounding countryside. As you meander through the eight pavilions and walkways, the garden twists and turns, opening like a blossom to be discovered one petal at a time. Each structure has a name. Our favorite is a walkway named “Pathway to the Mysteries.”
Plants abound including Japanese maples, persimmon trees, jasmine, bamboo, pines, plums, peaches, and chrysanthemums. In the spring, flowering plum trees fill the air with fragrance and pale pink blossoms; in the fall, the reflections of the red, orange and yellow leaves mingle with the koi (carp) which inhabit the ponds.
The Chinese Scholar’s Garden is a small part of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. Originally founded in 1831 as a “haven for aged, decrepit and worn-out sailors,” the 83-acre site is now a vibrant center dedicated to the arts with many things to see and do. Don’t miss the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, housed in one of the finest examples of Greek Revival buildings in America. The Staten Island Museum, the Staten Island Children’s Museum, and the Botanical Garden are just some of the many delights which await.
So escape the stresses of life. If you can’t create a garden yourself, then do the next best thing and spend a day in one. The Chinese Scholar’s Garden provides the perfect solution.
IF YOU GO
Snug Harbor Cultural Center is located at 1000 Richmond Terrace on Staten Island (Tel 718-448-2500). It can be reached by taking the Staten Island Ferry and connecting to the S40 bus from the St. George Terminal to the Snug Harbor Road stop. Entrance to Snug Harbor is free but there is an admissions fee for the Chinese Scholar’s Garden.