While in China the first time, I was invited by our hosts to organize a seed collecting
trip to the same area in the future. I eagerly took the opportunity, and in September,
1997 our new group left the USA for Kunming, the capitol city of Yunnan.
I was joined on this expedition by the following people:
Don Howse - owner/operator of Porterhowse Nursery, Sandy Oregon
Mariah Steenson - plant buyer at Portland Nursery, Portland, Oregon
Kelly Dodson - owner/operator of Reflective Gardens, Poulsbo, Washington
Sue Milliken - in transition, formerly of Kate Brook Conifer Nursery, Vermont
Ted Herrington - grows bacteria for a living at University of British Columbia, but
this is only part of his charm, being the comic relief that we could always count
on, and a very good soul. He kept us laughing.
Yes, it was even better the second time around, despite the fact that the season
had been the wettest in many years, and in spite of the early snow that kept us from
reaching the higher altitudes; notwithstanding the persistent rain that, more days
than not, found us in the field shuffling around in bulky raincoats, rainpants, and
wet boots; wet seed spread out at night in rooms too small for proper drying, then
bundling them up each morning for the new day’s trip; full days of driving on muddy
rutted roads, narrow slippery mountain roads with sheer dropoffs that would tax the
stomach of the most hardy mountain traveler. Nevertheless, we managed to come home
with enough seed to keep us satisfied and busy for a long time, with high expectations,
incredible indelible memories, and an eagerness to return.
Large clusters of bright red arisaema seed, A. consanquineum (common) and A. elephas
for sure, and some unknowns, maybe A. franchetii, hanging from withering leaf stems,
sometimes weighing them down to the ground, almost hidden in duff. A hike up a steep
wooded slope and then, in the underbrush, a vivid red spot, nestled in a ruff of
green bracts - it is Paris polyphylla to perfection, it’s seed head just popped open,
revealing a perfect cluster of shiny red seeds, tantalizing, ready and waiting. Searching
for and finally finding Podopyllum hexandrum, with fleshy, scarlet red, egg-shaped
capsules hanging from beneath the dying leaves. On the Zhongdian plateau, near the
Tibetan border, at 10,000’, the sun comes out for a day, the sky is intensely blue
above yak-grazed meadows of Euphorbia nematocypha, Iris bullyana and Stellera chamaejasme
v. chrysantha that were in such glorious bloom during my spring trip, but painted
a different picture now with the vivid autumn-red clumps of the euphorbia stretching
to the distant hills, tempered by the russet yellow of the dying iris foliage. The
stellera that had been so abundant here has completely disappeared, without a trace.
Mats of exquisite Gentiana sino-ornata, upward facing trumpets of vivid blue with
varying white linear markings on the outside of the flower, filling wet meadows at
the edge of Tianchi Lake, at 12,500’, so boggy that more than once water spills into
my boots when I do not watch closely where I am stepping. With time and opportunity,
I could have made enough selections in this meadow to overshadow the many named European
forms many times over. We wander meadows of Gentiana veitchiorum, a species similar
to G. sino-ornata but growing in drier conditions. The annual G. chungtienensis,
a low, starry-flowered species, still carpets these sunny meadows, as it did in spring.
Pale lavender blue Codonopsis pinifolius, and C. forrestii, wide open flat faced
flowers, with narrow petals, a full 2 -3 “ across, pops up here and there, twining
through the underbrush, easy to spot even as we drive by on the bus; dark blue aconitums
scramble through unknown shrubs: delphiniums bloom at the side of the road.
And unforgettable personal moments:
Memories of Dali - the first night:
Wandering down dark narrow cobblestone streets, past the few patrons that still sit
at the outdoor tables of the dimly lit small street cafes - batiks glow in the warmth
of the light of the few open shops -- A walk in the park - dreamlike, mysterious
- lavish pavilions half seen, half imagined - the curved marble bridge, the marble
rail cool and smooth beneath our hands, faintly lustrous in the dimness of the scattered
lights. Above our heads, hundreds of fluted chalices of Datura drip moonlight on
us, so sensually soft, intoxicating us with its rich perfume as we dance from table
to table in the dark, laughing, drunk with fantasy, with feelings overflowing.
And the Tibetan monastary:
Located on the precipice of a steep hillside just outside of Zhongdian, a very large,
very old open building, with many private niches. There is such a spiritual and peaceful
energy contained here. It is thick with it. It emits from the ancient walls, the
gold statues enclosed behind glass, precious for more than their jewels alone, the
prayer rugs laid end to end on low wooden platforms running the length of the building
towards the altar, the huge red pillars reaching to the high windowed ceiling, the
human sized spot on the floor, worn clean and shiny by countless bodies prostrating
themselves over so many years, the stair railing rubbed smooth and glowing by countless
hands, the candles lit in the darkness, softly illuminating the walls ornate with
painting, almost every inch of it decorated in some way, the old drums - I wanted
to hear them, to feel them reverberate through me in the dimness of this place.
An old monk with shaved head and threadbare burgundy robe sits crossed legged near
the door, softly chanting his prayers, over and over, in a world we can only imagine,
oblivious to intruders. The young teenage monks, in newer burgundy robes, are curious,
sneaking peeks at us when they can. It is exalting
It is truly an experience that cannot be expressed fully in words.