The number of botanic gardens in China in 1960 was only 10, low for such a large country with a rich flora and of course many people to learn about their natural environment. Things then hotted up, with a tally of 72 in 1990, 138 in 2000 and over 200 today. By world standards this total, and their quality, is exceptional and welcome.
Chongqing, with a municipal population of 30 million, is often described as one of three or four ‘oven’ or ‘furnace’ cities in China. These cities are away from the coast and get very hot in summer. I experienced a little of ‘fire’ on my visit in late July, compounded by the banquets often centred around a Sichuan hot pot bubbling with chillies and Sichuan peppers.
Nanshan Botanical Garden was opened firstly as a general park, mostly for sightseeing near the Golden Eagle statue on the top of a hill overlooking the central part of the city. In 1999 it was reopened as a botanic garden (so technically it is a post-1960 botanic garden), including scientific research, conservation projects and public programs. The garden is situated in what a ‘lower mountain area of subtropical China’, which (according to our climate modelling) makes it an excellent analogue for Melbourne in 2070.
I was met here at the front entrance by the Chairman of the botanic gardens, Mrs Jian Shi, and joined later by the Director, Mr Shaolin Zhang, head of science and camellia expert, Dr Junping Quan, and Deputy Director, Mr Jukan Wang. (And lest you question my dress sense, the Peep Tempel T-shirt was all I had to wear while my suitcase traveled to Chongqing on a flight 24 hours after me...)
Close to the main entrance is a large, relatively new glasshouse (at top of post), with three climatic zones: tropical, subalpine and arid. It is popular with visitors, often for the photo opportunities.
Beyond the glasshouse are 18 special gardens, and some well tended displays of signature plants such as lotus (Nelumbo; all growing in pots of water - see last picture of blog), sunflowers (also in pots) and a small ginkgo forest. The largest collection is the camellias, with 20,000 individuals representing at least 170 different cultivars (although more selections from the wild than selected in horticulture I think) and many rare local species.
This is Dr Quan next to a 400-year-old Camellia, one of a small number of older trees transplanted into the botanic garden. Other specialities of Nanshan include azaleas, osmanthus, flowering cherries and, more generally, rare plants of south-west China.
As elsewhere in Asia (e.g. Singapore) the botanic gardens are integrated within the Municipal Bureau of Parks, so staff have a broader responsibility beyond the botanic garden. Mr Yukun Wang, for example, has not only has responsibility for the glasshouse in the botanic garden but helped plan and build many urban parks in Chongqing, including this Central Park – not central in Chongqing but named after the famous New York park.
Interestingly, these Himalayan Cedars (Cedrus deodara) are being planted in large numbers here, and elsewhere in the city. According to our research at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, this is a species already at the edge of its climate envelope in Melbourne and may not tolerate the changes we predict over the next 50 years (higher temperatures, less rain). However the climate in Chongqing is close to analogous to what we expect in 2070 so it will interesting to watch how this species survives in both locations over the next few decades.
I must end with food, an important part of any visit to Chongqing. Over a wonderful banquet, the Director, Mr Shaolin Zhang, spoke of his grand plans, including the creation of a night garden, resembling a city street and reaching up to the peak (with the Eagle). He also suggested they collaborate with us in Melbourne to our mutual benefit. On our side I can see the selection of plants for our future climate and interpretation for Chinese visitors as benefits, for Nanshan they would value training in our water and climate-change management as well as some insight into our visitor programs. We ate and toasted to this.