If you're a garden historian visiting China, there is one destination that matters most and that is Suzhou. Known as the 'Venice of China', its extensive hydraulic network of canals from the lower Yangtze made it easy to bring water (an essential element of Chinese landscapes) into the garden, and its temperate climate and high humidity is ideal for the characteristic plants of the Chinese tradition as expressed not just on the ground but also in literature and art. There is a Chinese saying that 'the garden is an artistic recreation of nature; a landscape painting in three dimensions' and in fact the practices of painting, poetry and calligraphy were considered inseparable from the physical creation of the garden. All were the province of the wealthy scholars of south China in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. The private gardens that they created, for retreat and meditation and hosting fellow scholars, are best preserved in Suzhou.