Compactly yet harmoniously spaced, the Lion Forest Garden has a prominent part for series of man-made mountains with various buildings around the lake, and an artificial waterfall and cliffs at the edge of the lake on the west. Remains of the 14th century man-made mountains, covering 1,152 sq.m. and being the largest of all at Suzhou, can be still seen today. Noted for its labyrinthine mountains with winding pathways and caverns, old pines and cypress trees, awesome peaks and jogged rocks of grotesque shapes resembling dancing lions with striking and unusual poses, it possesses with pride the true delights of mountain and forest scenery in limited space with a flavor of Zen Buddhism.
The Hall of Peace and Happiness, one of the principal buildings in the garden, is a masterpiece of typical Mandarin ducks' hall at Suzhou. Divided in halves, the northern half of the hall differs from the southern half in many particular aspects, such as beam-framing systems, furnishings, pavements, carvings, window designs and so forth. With painted patterns and beam carvings and looking splendid in green and gold, the True Delight Pavilion in the royal style with the "True Delight" tablet inscribed by the Qing Emperor Qianlong is a main viewing place in the garden and differs from the other plain and elegant gardens of Suzhou. Other buildings include the Pointing at Cypress Trees Hall, the Asking Prunus Mume Pavilion and the Stone Boat, etc.
The Lion Forest Garden boasts 22 buildings of varied types, 25 tablets and plateaux, 71 steles inscribed with the famous Calligraphy Collection of the Listening to Rain Tower, 23 brick carvings, 5 carved wooden screens, and 13 valuable old trees such as ginkgo biloba L., pinus bungeana Zucc, etc., which fall into 5 catalogues.
A group of Zen Buddhist disciples of the famous Abbot Tianru had it built in the 2nd year of the reign of Zhizheng (A.D. 1342) under the Yuan Dynasty. It was then called "the Budhi Orthodox Monastery". Because there was s forest of bamboo, grotesque rocks resembling lions in the garden, and indirect reference to a Buddhist story of the Lion, it was renamed the Lion Forest Garden. Soon after its birth, the garden became a popular place for scholars at Suzhou, who came here to write poems and paint pictures. The well-known Yuan artist Ni Yunlin painted a scroll of the Lion Forest Garden. In the reign of Kangxi (the 17th century), the garden was separated from the temple. The Qing Emperor Qianlong (Hongli) visited it several times. The garden had changed hands a number of times. In 1918 it was purchased and repaired by Pei (now spelled "Bei" in China), an industrialist, becoming the garden one visits today. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Peis donated it to the State. Since 1954, the Lion Forest Garden has been open to the public.