A meandering wooden path leads towards a centuries-old oak tree situated at the centre of this alpine garden in China's Yulong County, which landscape design studio Z'scape created to celebrate the region's native plants and indigenous culture.
The Hylla Alpine Garden project forms part of the Lijiang Hylla Vintage Hotel complex in the foothills of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Lijiang, Yunnan province.
The hotel project is inserted carefully into the existing landscape, and features buildings constructed using reclaimed and local materials to ensure it links the past with the present.
The landscaping adopts a similar approach, employing local stonemasons and carpenters to create a contemporary design that feels connected to the site's history.
Native plants, local stones, textures and water features that recall the wells found in nearby villages all contribute to an environment that invites visitors to explore the local culture.
"The design effort draws upon the site," explained the architects, "establishing a distinct closeness with indigenous Naxi culture and alpine nature in creating a place of comfort, solitude and peace."
The garden is located close to UNESCO world heritage sites including Yuhu village and the historic town of Baisha, both of which are overlooked from the elevated site.
A Naxi village that was abandoned for several decades has been renovated to form the basis for the hotel and garden, which covers an area of approximately four hectares.
At the heart of the garden is a large oak tree, which would have been a sacred feature of the original village. Trees such as this were called Xupai by the Naxi people, who believed they would help to protect their land.
"The design team carefully kept [the Xupai tree] untouched and used it as a visual focal point to create a culturally sensitive landscape which blends together new and old seamlessly," Z'scape added.
Visitors enter the site along a path flanked by a wall made from white stone, before stepping down onto a wooden boardwalk that meanders across a lawn towards the oak tree.
The alpine lawn is used as a gathering space for events and provides the best views towards Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the town of Baisha.
All of the stone and timber elements included in the project were crafted by local workers using traditional techniques that have been passed down through generations. This helps them to retain a sense of the Naxi identity and a cultural uniqueness that is regionally specific.
Some of the walls include water features designed as abstract interpretations of the historic "three well" irrigations system developed by the Naxi people.
This system channels melted snow from the mountains into an upper well used for drinking water, a middle well for cleaning fruit and vegetables, and a lower well for washing clothes. The outflow is then used to irrigate the surrounding farmland.
The irrigation system informed two water features that feature long channels set into the stone walls. Water flows along the channels and pours down into stepped pools that represent the three wells.
The overall approach to the landscape design aims for minimal intervention and was created without the use of heavy machinery to protect the existing ecosystem.
A large forest that was preserved in the north and west of the garden contains oak trees, sumac, paulownia and Yunnan pine trees. Native plants such as rhododendron, irises and euphorbia were also introduced to reinforce the unique alpine ecology.
Z'scape was founded by Zhou Liangjun and Zhou Ting, and creates landscaping for clients involved in sectors such as cultural tourism projects, boutique hotels, urban spaces and residential developments.
Other projects shortlisted in the landscape category of Dezeen Awards 2021 include WAA's refurbished industrial buildings which are used as a children's community centre and playscape, as well as Qidi Design Group's landscape project with curving paths and bridges.