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Yaji Gardens: Antidotes to Modern Life

In ancient China, elaborate gardens were closely associated with the upper class—who enjoyed palatial estates and grounds stocked with rare flora and fauna.  But a new, more intimate garden gained popularity during the Mongol occupation (in the late 13th and early 14th century). In concert with a renewed emphasis upon the arts, the spaces—designed specifically to inspire—were termed scholar’s gardens. In them, Chinese literati gathered to share food and wine, write poems, create paintings, and appreciate their exquisite surroundings. These elegant creative gatherings, which sometimes stretched for days, became known as “yaji.”

At PAGODA RED, we continue to view gardens as vital social and creative spaces. Our outdoor havens are where we retreat, relax, (and, of course, entertain)—and are integral to our daily lives. We love to see how even the simplest garden can be elevated by the addition of an exceptional object or two. Read on for a few of our favorites, hand-picked with modern day “yaji” in mind.

Scholars’ Stones

Scholars’ stones are naturally occurring rock formations with fluid, sculptural qualities. They are treated as priceless works of art, imbued with a mystical quality thought to spark creativity. This stone’s evocative shape may once have inspired poems, paintings or calligraphy. This Lingbi example is particularly rare, as it presents four desirable qualities—perforations (lou), thinness (shou), openness (tou), and wrinkling (zhou). We imagine the piece at the center of a serene, meditative garden, where it could continue to draw great thinkers together.

Courtyard Doors

Nothing defines an outdoor space as successfully as a commanding set of antique courtyard doors. This formidable pair, crafted from elmwood and iron, hail from the Qing-dynasty in China’s Shanxi province—making them over a century old. Their time-worn rustic patina gives them incredible character. We see them lending drama and gravitas to an al-fresco dining area.

Hand Carved Buddha

Total balance—that’s the meaning of the meditative hand gesture, or “mudra” this limestone Buddha sculpture depicts. Here, the Buddha is seated on a lotus, symbolizing purity and detachment from worldly want. Created around 1900 during the Meji restoration period, the statue’s distinctive halo is meant to signify a transcendental state. We envision this spectacular piece at the edge of a pond, or grounding a serene open-air sitting area—inviting dialogue and contemplation.

Stone Trough

The use of natural elements to create a place of refuge is a recurring theme in antique Chinese art and text, but the ethos feels just as resonant today. The weathered stone of these provincial vessels were chiseled from a block of limestone over a century ago.  We love to see them reprised as minimalist bird baths or planters.  

A Contemplation Garden


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