BOTANICAL TRIP TO BEIJING
by Kenwyn Pearson
To fly to Beijing,the capital of China,on 13th April 2003 was something that I could not have even contemplated three years before,as I began a two month stay in hospital and started a rehabilitation exercise which kept me off work for nearly two years and will probably always prevent me from returning to full time employment. I had decided to join the Professional Gardener’s Guild Botanical Trip to China for a period of just over two weeks in April 2003. Beijing suffers from heavy levels of pollution and some times the sun hardly appeared to get through the barrier:it was difficult to determine whether the people wearing masks were trying to prevent spread of SARS,or whether they were trying to prevent pollution from entering their respiratory systems. The number of people in all areas leaves an indelible impression and one always thinks that you are seeing the entire population,some 1.3 billion,every time you travel out of your hotel.
The planting of trees in the urban areas is outstanding,though the methods employed in pruning,leave you speechless. The central reservations on all major roads are planted with box, privet, Euonymus, Berberis and roses. It is quite a sight as one travels through the various provinces,and one feels that they may have something to teach us at home in these areas,where our westernised expensive bureaucracy prevents such initiatives!
To go to China and not see The Great Wall and the Terracotta Army would be unforgivable. We also saw Beijing in reasonable detail spending best part of a day in the Forbidden City and Ming Tombs,but we did spend a considerable time in the Botanical Gardens of Beijing and it was a pleasure to be shown details of the garden and its support areas by an ex-Kew student Dr. Jin. The plant collections and range of species were immense and it proved a real treasure.
After the fragrant hills and Beijing Botanic Garden we saw Tiannemen Square and the Forbidden City and onto Qujiang Chunxiao garden and on the way to Kunming we visited the Terracotta Army and had a full day visit to Kunming Botanical Gardens. We did five internal flights and lots of coach journeys on roads that left much to be desired,and the repair techniques were illuminating! In Xishuanbanga we visited the Menglun Botanical Garden and Institute. Via Buddist temples and pagodas we visited the Botanic Garden in Shanghai and we went to the Gardens in Souzhou. The visit to Dragon Tea Plantations was stunning and makes me think when I drink tea,from China! The Hangzou Flower Nursery was spectacular with bonsai trees which made any display I had ever seen in this country,amateur by comparison.
The flight home was long from Shanghai to Heathrow,but what a trip! I made some superb friends and contacts which have developed since returning to UK: I have established a contact for Kew with Shanghai Botanic Garden and am currentlyhelping a Ph.D. Student with analysis of Quercusin the wild,sourcing material both at Kew and the Royal Horticultural Society. Given the opportunity I will go to China again.