The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 5: Gardens in Asia, America, Africa, Australia

Fa Tee Gardens Guangzhou China

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787. The Fa-tee Gardens at Canton. 'I lost no time,' observes Mr. Fortune, 'in visiting the celebrated Fa-tee Gardens near Canton, the 'flowery land,' as the name implies, whence a great number of those fine plants were first procured which now decorate our gardens in England. They are situated two or three miles above the city on the opposite side of the river, and are, in fact, Chinese nursery-gardens, where plants are cultivated for sale. Here, then, I beheld a specimen of the far-famed system of Chinese gardening, about which we have read so much in European authors : I will, therefore, describe them somewhat fully. The plants are principally kept in large pots arranged in rows along the sides of narrow paved walks, with the houses of the gardeners at the entrance through which the visiters pass to the gardens. There are about a dozen of these gardens, more or less extensive, according to the business or wealth of the proprietor ; but they are generally smaller than the smallest of our London nurseries.' They have also stock grounds, where the different plants are planted out in the ground, and where the first process of dwarfing trees is put into operation. These gardens contain large collections of camellias, azaleas, oranges, and various other well-known plants, which are purchased by the Chinese when in flower. The most striking plant in autumn is the curious fingered citron, which the Chinese gather and place in their dwellings or on their altars. It is much admired both for its strange form and its perfume. The Mandarin orange, kept in a dwarf state, is also a favourite plant at Fa-tee, It is, however, in spring that these gardens are most beautiful from the immense quantities of azaleas and tree pï¾µonies that are grown in them. The Chinese gardeners, however, pique themselves most on growing the chrysanthemum, which perhaps they manage better than any other plant, (fortune's China, p. 154.) The Chinese make great preparations in procuring flowers to decorate their houses on their new year's day, and Mr. Fortune states that, on going up the river towards the Fa-tee gardens, he met boats in great numbers, loaded with branches of peach and plum trees in blossom, Enkianthus quinqueflora, camellias, cock's-combs, magnolias, and various other plants which flower in China at that season. 'The Enkianthus is brought down from the hills with the buds just expanding ; and, after being placed in water for a day or two, the flowers come out as healthy and fresh as if the branches had not been removed from the parent tree. This plant is a great favourite amongst the Chinese. The common jonquil too comes in for a very extensive share of patronage ; and in the streets of Canton one meets with thousands of bulbs growing in small, pans amongst water and a few white stones. In this case the Chinese exhibit their peculiar propensity for dwarf and monstrous growth, by planting the bulbs upside down, and making the plants and flowers assume curious twisted forms, which appear to be so agreeable to the eyes of a Chinaman. Large quantities of all these flowers are exposcd for sale in many of the shops and in the corners of the streets in Canton, where they seem to be eagerly bought up by the Chinese, who consider them quite indispensable at this particular season. Not only are the houses and temples decorated with them, but the boats on the river also come in for a most extensive share. Indeed, these boats are only floating houses, for a very great part of the population of Canton lives upon the river. The flower-boats, as they are commonly called, are particularly gay at new-year time with flowers of all hues, and gaudy flags streaming from each mast and stern. Crackers or fireworks, of which the Chinaman is so fond, are let off in large quantities for several days in all parts of the town, and form part of their religious ceremonies or offerings to their gods. Their shops are closed on new year's day, and for two or three days afterwards. The greater part of the natives wear their holiday clothes, and tramp about amongst their relations and friends to chin-chin them, and wish them a happy new year, as we do at home. Large parties are made at this season to go up to the gardens at Fa-tee ; and on particular days you find there hundreds of these flower-boats crowded with young Chinese of the better classes, enjoying themselves as our own population do at Richmond or Hampton Court. Great numbers of well-dressed ladies also go over to Fa-tee in the flower-boats, and walk about in the gardens ; and this is the only season when they are visible at Canton.' [Editor's Note: The Fa Tee Gardens were nursery gardens in Guangzhou]