Made in China?

 In Gardens Visited

Whatever you buy nowadays, it seems to be made in China doesn’t it? You would think that would be limited to manufactured goods wouldn’t you and that the Chinese influence hadn’t yet reached our gardens?

Wrong! Think again, for over a century most of the ornamental plants we grow have been introduced from that vast and rich country! Okay, so they aren’t actually produced there and shipped over to your local garden centre [yet] but many of the shrubs, perennials, trees and climbers that we love are Chinese native plants.

Now the closest that I have got to China is the tiny Kingdon of Sikkim. This is now part of India and in the northern parts you can peep into China [Tibet], Bhutan and of course Nepal.

I guess the next best thing to an actual visit is to see a really good Chinese garden and that I certainly did recently in USA!

Portland, out there on the west coast in the fascinating state of Oregon, has arguably the very best Chinese garden outside of China! Perhaps that isn’t surprising when you learn that this garden was actually built by Chinese craftsmen using mostly materials imported from China. I say mostly, for the import regulations for plant material are such that you virtually have to kill a plant before they will let anything be brought in to USA! So the plants at least were sourced locally but no less than 500 tons of rock was brought in and masses of wood too!

But a Chinese garden in mid winter?

Well yes actually, I would recommend it and at any other time of the year too! This is a delightful garden full of thought provoking hard and soft landscaping. True, there is a lot of hard stuff packed into this downtown garden occupying a block amongst towering modern buildings. But the planting is good too with much to see even in mid winter.

Highlights when I visited in early January were Mahonia lomariifolia in full bloom, winter sweet [Chimonanthus praecox] subtly filling the air with deliciously sweet scent and persimmon fruits [Diospyros kaki] glistening like orange baubles from a strategically placed tree. The Mahonia species, although due to it’s frost tenderness not often planted in UK gardens, is a parent of those popular Mahonia x media hybrids that include Charity.

There are over 300 varieties and species in this garden [ more than 30,000 native plants in China to choose from!] and so whatever time you visit there is bound to be plenty to see.

I would love to see it in spring when the many cherries, magnolias, Camellia and Rhododendron will be at their best but the leaf colour from the many maples there would ensure that an autumn visit is good too. There are so many interesting and less common plants here to see that a visit in any month of the year will be worthwhile.

Of course the authentic buildings, water features and other Chinese artefacts easily make you believe that you have just stepped back 600 years into a wealthy aristocrat’s garden in the Ming Dynasty.

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There are many compelling reasons to visit the Pacific North West of the USA. The climate is similar to the UK and, when combined with the enthusiasm for gardening that home owners from Washington and Oregon States show, little wonder that this area is full of good nurseries and gardens to see.

When in Portland be sure to see the city’s fabulous world famous rose garden and a few minutes away probably the best Japanese garden outside of Japan too!

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