I thought I had heard of all the big gardens in Beijing and was remarking on that very point to my good friend Yan the other day. She smiled a knowing smile and put me firmly in my place. Little did I know that Beijing has a second botanical garden inside the 4th Ring Road – this one in the south west of the capital, as opposed to the ‘real’ Botanical Garden in the north west.
Better still, Yan’s mother has friends in high places, it seems. She can get us in for nothing. Would I like this apparent gap in my education filled in? I surely would!
Shìjiè huāhuì dàguānyuán (世界花卉大观园) calls itself "Beijing Garden of World's Flowers" – except for on its logo where it reverts to Beijing Flower World; and on its pamphlet where it calls itself “Touring World Flowers Garden”. A clear case of schizophrenia if ever there was one!
Despite the fact that all my colleagues that I ask, without exception, have never heard of this place, the Trip Advisor web site ranks Beijing Garden of World’s Flowers at #52 out of 1,228 attractions in Beijing!
I scurry over to the subway and take line 10 for 20 stations in a clockwise direction, getting off at JiaomenXi where I am met by Yan and her cousin Tingting. From there it’s a short cab ride to the entrance at No.235 NansihuanzhongJie in Fengtai District.
Beijing Garden of World's Flowers is the largest botanical garden inside the capital's Fourth Ring Road. It covers an area of 42 hectares and has been awarded top marks as a tourist attraction, though by whom we are never told by the plethora of web sites simply gushing their praises of this floral wonderland.
It was opened in 2005 in the run up to the 2008 BJ Olympics with a view to showing off to the world how “green” Beijing is. According to visitbeijing.com.cn, “there are 15 large greenhouses where you can enjoy a range of exotic flowers, plants and herbs in varying landscapes”. According to anyone who has actually been there, however, there are seven greenhouses.
China.org.cn – ever a web site with its finger on the pulse – reports that 150 million yuan was invested in its construction, which began in 2003; but it then rather spoils its impact by talking of it opening “on January 16 this year” – in other words its page is now nine years out of date! But it is at least able to count up to seven!
Outside by the ticket booths is a statue that rather sets the scene of what we are to expect inside the hallowed portals…
The lamp posts, too, are a reflection of the kitsch designs that the planning team approved over a decade ago. I am immediately reminded of some of the street lighting in downtown Manila that can make such an impact on the unwary visitor!
Once inside there is what appears to be a half completed walkway that looks like it is crying out for a grape vine or something similar to be draped over it. It is referred to in the official blurb handouts as a European Gallery Frame – but apart from that the blurb gives no more information. It is ignored by almost everyone following us in.
Ahead of us is Versailles Square – an elegantly laid out parterre which is immaculately trimmed and which again seems all but ignored by the hoards streaming in.
No one even gives a second glance to the patterned paths, which seems a shame given that someone has obviously put in a bit of thought to their construction…
Instead, there is a surge forward along the “Star light main road” towards the first of the seven (that’s 7 not 15!) greenhouses – this one called “Flowers scientific research laboratory”. Inside there are loads of bottles lined up just as you would expect to see in a laboratory. Wow!
And there’s even a plethora of girls in white lab coats preparing cuttings that will probably end up in the shop as ready-to-go plants. As the official blurb puts it “Touring World Flowers Garden is a combination of sight-seeing, science popularization, shopping and dining.” So seeing pretty girls in white lab coats is how they popularise science here is it? Sounds OK to me!
You can tell that their propagation techniques work, as the fruits of their labour can be seen stacked up in serried rows, filling up most of the remainder of this green house palace, waiting to replenish the stocks in the shop at the end of the day, no doubt.
I’m intrigued by one notice that is firmly stuck to the door that goes in to the lab area. But my curiosity is short lived. “For construction tools” is how a work colleague translates the Chinese for me.
The most striking blooms in this area are undoubtedly the cultivated orchids that add a riot of colour to the place. Who can possibly not want one of these?
As we prepare to leave the research lab greenhouse, there is a poster showing which flowers belong to which zodiac signs. Oh, how useful! I will be able to work out what I should wear in my button hole next time the occasion arises. Problem is, what are those blue flowers shown below cancer the crab (Yup! Your favourite blogger is a cancer!)
I search teleflora.com/astrology and find that my flower is a Delphinium. Yes, those blue flowers could well be that. But wait… fromyouflowers.com thinks my flower is a lily. Hmmm. interactivestars.com reckons, on the other hand that my flower is jasmine or stephanotis while horoscopes.lovetoknow.com reckons I should feel at one with a geranium, a magnolia or a cabbage!
We hurriedly move on to the next greenhouse, enticingly called ‘Vegetables Melon Orchard’. This is nothing short of a glorified agricultural conservatory exhibiting over a hundred varieties of vegetables and fruit.
But schizophrenia is by now well and truly to the fore, as we are invited to follow a well worn path…
On show are all kinds of common-or-garden vegetables, which I remember growing in the good old days when I had an allotment on the edge of a farm in the UK.
But wow! What is everyone snapping away at… if not a giant pumpkin!
The canny Chinese are not taking any risks either. To make sure that visitors toe the line and don’t try to cross the barrier in their excitement to get close to this record breaking vegetable, they have placed guard dogs at the ready. Grrrr!!!
Well, I guess I was never that turned on by giant pumpkins anyway. (No! It is nothing to do with these vicious canines!) I steer the girls away from the snarling jaws as we make a bee-line for the next greenhouse… Quality Flowers Hall.
As if to underline the fact that ‘like attracts like’, I pose with some quality orchids…
whilst pondering all the while what the definition of an ‘artide’ is…
Somewhat late in the day, I can’t help feeling, a video wall greets us to the Garden.
But most visitors give it hardly a second glance as they wander around some well placed bushes…
… before spotting a shy plastic deer peeking out from the shrubbery…
There’s loads of well manicured greenery
and swathes of flowers – such as this display of cyclamen…
How does your garden grow?
Someone has even poured out a few bags of cement to construct a cave of stalactites (or are they stalagmites? I can never remember.)
And to make any Ozzies feel at home there’s even a koala perched in the trees. Not that there are any Ozzies here, you understand – nor any other foreigners at all today, bar yours truly! Conversely, there’s not even a single solitary panda in the entire park – well, not that I have come across anyway!
In the Tropical Greenhouse, there is a ‘Square of Chinese Domain”, where those in the know can spot a massive Brachychiton Rupestris, or, as the notice proclaims, a Bracbycdbiton.
There are also banana trees with actual, genuine, real bananas duly hanging from them (Wow!), which seems to be getting the snap-happy visitors reaching in droves for their camera-phones; and a little further on everyone queues up patiently to walk under a man-made waterfall to have their photos taken by admiring relatives.
At risk of overdosing on the fun, we are now directed to the next glass house, enticingly called “The Desert Grows The Plant Hall”.
And sure enough, sitting in mounds of builders’ sand are various specimens of cacti livening up the place with their wonderful variety of shapes and sizes.
It being the year of the horse (or the year of the whores, as the BBC famously called it in one of its subtitled news bulletins) there is a clever little display of vari-coloured cactus flowers welcoming in the year…
And I just love this display of melocactus amoenus pfeiff that reminds me of honey-pot ginger plants I have seen in the Philippines…
It’s not long before we are being directed to the “Savour Tea and Appreciate Flowers Hall”, where there is a carpet of begonias spread out before us and, surprise, surprise, loads of visitors settling down to open their thermos flasks.
Ahead of us is a small shopping stall with plenty of cute plants to tempt our wallets
I spot an ever-so-cute Adenium Obesum and before I know it, as Tingting distracts my attention, Yan is handing over the readies for a new companion in my life. We decide to call her Tuantuan as she is also going to be the new companion for my little teddy bear that came free with a loaf of bread during Valentine’s week. Teddy is called Yuanyuan. (Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan together mean "reunion" in Chinese).
We decide not to inspect the garden shop, but instead can hardly contain our excitement to go see the special outdoor gardens, of which six are meant to represent the character and style of a particular country.
First up is Germany, represented here by a scruffy piece of lawn behind some empty buildings with a plastic table and chairs in front, a wooden bench-table and not just a dustbin, but a plastic garbage bag as well! How Teutonic is that!
Hardly containing our excitement, we move on over to the Dutch character and style garden. Yes, there is the obligatory windmill attached to an equally empty house with an equally obligatory piece of scruffy lawn behind. Unfortunately there is not a tulip to be seen, these having been planted along the path to the “Square of the Flowered”.
But it is well made up for with some of the plum and peach blossoms that continue to capture the attention of all who pass.
Somehow we miss the Russian and Japanese gardens, one piece of scruffy lawn looking much like another I suspect; so we head on over to the musical fountain. Except that there’s no music and no fountain today. Hey, it’s not Ramadhan is it?
It is only now that we come across a notice that I feel should have been erected at the entrance to the garden, not as we approach the end of our tour.
“Unfull-grown must have a hand in item with the parent or guardian of a children,” it admonishes. No worries. I feel I count as an ‘un-unfull-grown’, so I move on to the next warning.
“The visitor who suffer from an illness with high blood pressure illness, heart illness andother illness please don’t have a hand in item”. OMG I never thought to check what my hand has been in since I entered the park!
I try to suppress my natural anxieties as we jump into another cab and head on back from whence we had come, all the while making sure I don’t have a hand in item. There’s only one thing that I know of, that will cure my worries…. Food!
But that story, dear reader, will have to keep for another time…