The smog has rolled into Beijing. Day after day, the city is enshrouded in a depressing grey haze and an air of toxicity lingers about. Once in a while, we’d get lucky and there’ll be a hint of sun, a peek of blue skies. Only then do we feel safe to venture outdoors for a much needed stroll without the precautions of an unsightly M3 mask. On these days, I’d go to the community park to use the exercise equipment or explore the city like a tourist.
It was on one such lucky “good weather” day that my Auntie Qizheng suggested a trip to the Beijing Botanical Garden (北京植物园). After having been cooped up indoors for days, I happily agreed.
The Beijing Botanical Garden (located towards the outskirts outside of the 5th Ring Road) has an important significance to the city. My mom said that back in her day, Beijing had barely any parks or green spaces. Built in 1955, the Beijing Botanical Garden was pretty much the only place there was in the city to escape to for some peace and scenery. Nowadays, parks are aplenty, including the new huge Olympic Park.
This was my first time to the Beijing Botanical Gardens, and it was a great time to visit. Because the chrysanthemum exhibition was going on!
Chrysanthemums (菊花) are synonymous with fall in Beijing. I’ve always heard about going to see mums in the fall, and finally got to experience it for myself what it’s all about.
These fields of mums are the plain ol’ garden variety mums – a relative of the common daisy. These are easily planted, spreading rapidly like wildflower. Yes, they’re pretty, especially when there’s a sea of them, but you’ve seen nothing yet.
There’s a whole other world of exhibition mums (who knew there was such a thing?!) – a truly spectacular, gorgeous sight to behold!
Unlike the garden variety mums, the exhibition ones require careful cultivation and precision care. It takes a lot of work to guide the plant into growing one gigantic perfect bloom. I’m not sure how gardeners create the magic of such beautiful blooms, but it’s clear that chrysanthemum breeding and cultivation has been raised to an art form.
(For the small pictures, click to enlarge! I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as too many pictures, but I’m pretty sure I’m nearing that limit in this post!)
Did you know that chrysanthemums were first cultivated in China?! Now along with paper and gunpowder, China can add this gorgeous flower to its list of great inventions. Mums were cultivated as far back as the 15th century, and it would be over 2,500 years before this flower made its way to the west.
There are over a thousand cultivars of chrysanthemums. We certainly didn’t see nearly as many as that, but I was amazed by the wide variety and how many different forms and shapes they can come in. Some of these blooms are as large as your head!
I call mums “the flower of the thousand petals”. There are about 10 different bloom forms. Some are wrapped tight like a ball, while some have gently unfurling petals. Some are a brilliant cascade of petals bowing towards the earth. Some have feathery wisps of petals and some have heavy curly tendrils. Some are rocking a shaggy look like that of a lion’s mane, while others have rickety spindly petals like spider legs.
Personally, I think one perfect exhibition mum beats out a sea of garden mums. No?
Chrysanthemum tea is a popular health drink in China. It’s basically just dried chrysanthemum flowers (the small daisy-type) steeped in hot water. I’ve taken to drinking it daily, as it’s believed to help with cooling the body (to counteract “body fire” – a health affliction that somehow only Chinese people seem to get, and somehow I always come down with whenever I’m in China). The “tea” has a naturally sweet, fragrant taste.
I’ve said before that I’m not that much of a flowers girl, but I’ve always thought roses (I’m obsessed with anything rose scented) or sunflowers were perhaps my favorite. But I think chrysanthemums may have to be a contender now! These are the most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen. And it’s fitting too, as apparently, chrysanthemums are the November birth flower.
Where to see chrysanthemum in Beijing in fall:
Beijing Botanical Garden: field of small mums and exhibition of special cultivars.
- Address: Wo Fo Si Road, Fragrance Hill, Haidian District, Beijing.
- Opening hours: 7:00 am – 5:00 pm
- Directions: Take Metro Line 1 to Pingguoyan (Apple Orchard) station, then take Bus No. 318; OR take Line 2 to Xi Zhi Men, then take Bus No. 634
Beihai Park: every October – November has a special chrysanthemum exhibition showcasing chrysanthemum gifts received from other parks & gardens.
- Address: Not sure, but it is in the center of Beijing just behind the Forbidden City
- Opening hours: April – Oct: 6:30 am – 9:00 pm; Nov – Mar: 6:30 am – 8:00 pm
- Directions: Take Metro Line 6 to Beihai North (Beihai Bei) station
International Flower Port: every fall has the Chrysanthemum Festival (see the spring tulip festival here)
- Address: Hongsi Village Yang, Beijing 101309
- Opening hours: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
- Directions: From Dongzhimen (东直门) off of Line 2, take Bus No. 915 or No. 918 to Nancai (南彩). Then change to Bus No. 41.
Have you ever seen chrysanthemums like this? What is your favorite flower?
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