Through the moon gate

Spring is a gorgeous reminder of how much our gardens owe to China: wisteria, plum blossom, magnolia, rhododendron, azalea et al. The influence goes beyond the botanical too. Take the Moon Gate. Peter Whitehead was struck by Colin Barlow’s postcard about West Green House a little while back.  The picture of the moon gate at the bottom of a water staircase sent him hunting back through his photographs to find examples of those he loves in China. He sent us this.


“In the old noble gardens of China moon gates invite you in, as in the entrance to the Master of the Nets Garden, in Suzhou. You walk the mosaic’d pebble path (now there’s another story!) through the waving sea of mondo grass, past a maple and a cherry. Stepping through the circle focuses your attention and offers a very intimate, human-scaled entrance to a garden that aims for a sense of harmonious simplicity.

The allusion to the moon has many meanings. There’s an old Chinese adage that flowers bloom more beautifully under a full moon, for instance. The moon also represents both heaven and the pearl, which itself is a symbol of virtues like wisdom, immortality, knowledge and fertility. So a moon gate brings all these attributes to the garden. As well, and this is what Westerners notice, it does a beautiful job of framing a view!


This one, overlooking water and a fringe of maples, was taken at my favourite Chinese Garden. It’s in the city of Hangzhou, on the shore of the immense West Lake. It is called Guo’s Villa and was constructed in the mid-19th century as a private retreat for a wealthy Qing Dynasty silk merchant. It’s a very intimate garden and has the added attraction of being relatively un-visited.

My other favourite moon gates are in the Master of the Nets Garden in Suzhou. The garden was started in 1140 by a civil servant who was inspired by the simple and solitary life of a fisherman as depicted in philosophical writings. Subsequent owners embellished the gardens with ponds, pavilions and bridges but maintained the allusions to the simple and contented life referred to in the garden’s name. I think you can see just what I mean in this picture.


Photos: Peter Whitehead

Peter is leading a tour to China and Louyang’s annual peony festival next April.

Comments (1)

  1. Thank you Peter for reminding me how our journeys to China since 1982 have evolved and how the gardens have improved dramatically in that time.
    I must also say your photographs and short story whet my appetite for returning to China, I might have to arm wrestle you to get it back.
    Thanks for all you do with us, regards Graham Ross

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