On June 1, 2009 the Longwood Graduate Program Class of 2010 departed on an amazing trip to China. In addition to seeing a wide variety of public gardens, the Fellows had opportunities to meet with upper-level management, researchers, and other staff to learn about their operations. During most of these meetings the travelers had an opportunity to provide a short presentation about both Longwood Gardens and the Longwood Graduate Program. The Fellows’ ambitious itinerary also included visiting some of the breathtaking historic and cultural sites that are a testament to the thousands of years of civilization in China. Longwood’s Director of Education, Dr. Doug Needham, and Nursery Manager, Ms. Naomi McCafferty, accompanied the Fellows on the trip.
The group began its tour in the country’s capital, Beijing. This city is home to over 13 million people and continues to undergo overwhelmingly rapid development. Nevertheless, the Fellows visited one of the city’s premier green oases, the Beijing Botanical Garden, and met with the Director, Mr. Tiecheng Li; Head of Education, Dr. Kang Wang; Curator and Head of Conservatory, Dr. Shiwei Zhao, and several other staff. The Fellows also visited the Beijing research station of the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Botany (IBCAS) where they met with Deputy Director, Dr. Kang Chong; and Head of International Affairs, Dr. Leng Jing. The staff provided an overview of the Institute’s work throughout China, which proved timely as many of the Fellows’ subsequent hosts were also affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The group also toured the facility’s outdoor collections and its herbarium of over 2.3 million specimens. Whilst in Beijing, the Fellows also visited several nearby cultural sites, including the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, the Summer Palace, Tian’an Men Square and the Forbidden City.
Following Beijing, the Fellows traveled south to the Yunnan Province and the city of Kunming. Also known as the “City of Eternal Spring,” Kunming is loved for its subtropical climate and beautiful plants. The Fellows toured the Kunming Botanical Garden with Director, Dr. Wei-bang Sun and other staff and learned about their research on camellias, rhododendrons, and plants endemic to the Yunnan Province. The Fellows also visited the breathtaking karst limestone formations at the Stone Forest National Park and toured the World Horticulture Expo-Garden in Kunming, which first opened to the public in 1999 and features display and thematic gardens.
The Fellows then traveled to the autonomous prefecture of Xishuangbanna in the southernmost part of the Yunnan, mere kilometers from the border of Laos. Here, the Fellows visited the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden and met with Director Jin Chen to discuss the Garden’s work in scientific research, environmental preservation, and public education. Another highlight of the trip to Xishuangbanna was a visit to a rubber plantation and traditional village of the Dai ethnic minority.
Following Xishuangbanna, the Fellows traveled to Guangzhou, the third largest city in China, with a population around 11 million people. The Fellows visited some of the city's cultural highlights, such as the Chen Ancestral Hall and Folk Art Museum, Shamian Park, and Qingping Market. The group also toured the conservatory and outdoor collections of the South China Botanical Garden and met Managing Director, Dr. Liao Jing-Ping. From Guangzhou, the group traveled by train to Shenzhen. This bustling city has experienced tremendous growth since it was designated a Special Economic Zone in 1980. The Fellows visited the Shenzhen Fairy Lake Botanical Garden, which first opened to the public in 1988 and now has more than two million visitors annually. The Fellows had an opportunity to meet with Deputy Director Dr. Liu, staff members, and several graduate students, and enjoyed a tour of the garden’s impressive research collections and horticultural displays led by Head of Education, Dr. Jiao Genlin.
The group then departed Shenzhen for the former capital of Nanjing, located on the Yangtze River, where the Fellows spent their first day enjoying the city’s historic sites including the Zhonghua Gate and Confucius Temple. Then the Fellows toured the Nanjing Botanical Garden and met several staff including Head of Research Division, Professor Li Ya; Vice Director of Garden Management, Dr. Tang; and Curator of Living Collections, Ms. Sheng Ning. From Nanjing, the Fellows traveled by train to the quaint city of Suzhou to visit some of China’s famous Classical Gardens. Designed by artists, philosophers, and poets during the Ming and Qing dynasties, these elegant gardens were considered an organic extension of the home and, as such, served as an interesting counterpoint to the contemporary public gardens of the trip. The Fellows also met with Ms. Wang Lijun and Professor Xiang from the Suzhou Gardens and Landscape Administration Bureau and learned about its operation and maintenance of these precious historical sites.
The final stop on this trip was to cosmopolitan Shanghai, home to almost 20 million people. Despite its incredible density, Shanghai has had a very successful urban greening initiative over the last ten years, evident in the parks and gardens located throughout the city. The Fellows enjoyed a wonderful visit to the Shanghai Botanical Garden, where they met with Director, Dr. Hu Yonghong and other staff to learn about the garden’s operations and tour its collections. Whilst in Shanghai, the Fellows also visited some of the city’s cultural sites, such as the famous Jade Buddha Temple, the Yu Garden, Huxington Teahouse and the Bridge of Nine Turnings.
By the end of the trip, the group had toured over a dozen public horticulture sites, from ornamental display gardens to traditionally-designed historic sites to research-based institutions. Interacting with staff at such a variety of institutions was a wonderful and enriching educational experience for all of the student travelers. Furthermore, the opportunity to visit remarkable cultural sites in several different parts of China made this journey the trip of a lifetime!
The Fellows also recorded their experience in a travel blog that can be accessed here.