I’ve been getting notifications about the Floriade in Netherlands next year, 2012. It’s held every 10 years and will be in Venlo from April-October.
We’d love to go, but are not sure at this point.
But, it got me thinking about a world Horti Expo we went to in Kunming, China, in 1999.
So, here’s a copy of an article of mine that was in newspapers in 1999.
(Relevance to SG: That was our first visit to China and we felt very adventurous. We spent one month in Kunming and did some small trips out of that city. At that time, the regulations by the ruling Communist Party were still pretty tight, and our hosts kept a close watch on us! It’s interesting as since then China has opened up much more.)
A WORLD GARDEN IN ONE PLACE. THE KUNMING INTERNATIONAL HORTICULTURAL EXPOSITION (EXPO ‘99)
Could gardens be a way of bringing together people from all over the world? Judging from the enthusiastic response of 9.3 million people to the Horticulture Expo in China it seems this might be so. China invited the world to show and share its plants. The Chinese have always had an affinity with plants and gardens, and horticulturalists and plant lovers around the world know the importance of Chinese plants and gardening techniques.
The Kunming International Horticultural Exposition, with the theme“Man and Nature Marching into the 21st Century”, showcased Chinese gardens and the diversity of the Floral Kingdom in one huge, beautifully-landscaped garden.
The Expo was held in Kunming City, the capital of Yunnan Province, located in southwest China, May through October, 1999 and was extended a further six months. My Chinese friends in Kunming assure me that the Expo Gardens are still open to visitors after the Expo and are still beautiful (although I have been unable to open the Kunming web site).
Sixty seven countries, 26 international organizations and over 100 Chinese and foreign enterprises showcased gardens and other achievements in landscape art, horticulture and environmental protection.
The Expo was impressive, a real diversity of plants and colors, the theme of flowers used in every possible form. The whole garden is a great example of how well the Chinese can blend hills, woods, flowers, water, paths, stones and buildings into an organic, integrated whole. It was also important as an event to promote international trade and cultural exchanges.
There were about 60,000 visitors the Saturday we were there, most speaking Chinese (from other Chinese provinces) but we heard many other languages, and all the comments we could understand were positive; people were really excited about the whole concept of the Expo.
The organizers did a good job of coping with such big crowds, and facilities were numerous and good. All signs were in both Chinese and English, and maps in various other languages were also available. The huge size of the garden was a bit daunting, but there were little cart-trains to catch if the walking got too tiring.
The Expo Garden is located in the Golden Temple Scenic area, in the northern outskirts of Kunming. Inside the garden area were five large exhibition halls (Man and Nature Hall, Science and Technology Hall, China Hall, International Hall, and the Grand Greenhouse), and many gardens, including the Trees Garden, the Chinese Medicine and Herb Garden, the Bamboo Garden and the Tea Garden, as well as gardens from all China’s provinces and many other countries.
We began in the huge open entrance plaza, surrounded by enormous brightly-colored billboards, advertising products of thesponsors of the Expo, such as Dali Beer. A sea of people ebbed and flowed around the landmark statue of Ling Ling the monkey, the emblem and logo of the Expo. Ling Ling, in short overalls and T-shirt, carries a bunch of flowers and has a broad smile on its full-lipped face. We thought the real Ling Ling, an endangered monkey found in southern Yunnan, was a suitable logo for the Expo. However, Suzanna, a visitor from Switzerland, found it unattractive and unsuitable, so you never can tell.
From the entrance turnstiles we walked along Flower Avenue, wide streets painted with geometric swirls of flowers, past the Hong Kong flower-covered sailboat, symbolizing the return of Hong Kong to China, and the enormous red, green and purple flower clock, which ticked away into the next century and millennium. The large open-air Art Plaza had frequent shows on its stage. When we were there, 100 children from Kunming, aged about 6 and dressed inmilitary-style costumes, performed a special version of the dance“Nanniwan”, famous in China.
China Hall, the largest indoor exhibition hall, was unpleasantly crowded so we shuffled through and didn’t see much of anything. Some of the outside Chinese gardens managed to achieve a measure of the fabled peace and beauty of traditional gardens in spite of the surging, excited throngs of mainly Chinese tourists, notably the Garden of Yunnan Landscape, with rocks like a miniature Stone Forest.
Being such an extensive area it wasn’t possible to see everything in one day so we wandered at will doing our best to see a bit of everything. We found the Tea House and Garden, the Chinese Medicine Garden, the Chinese Fruit and Vegetable Garden, the Bonsai Garden and the Bamboo Garden superb, but the Trees Garden was immature (I guess trees do take many years to grow, after all), and the Butterfly House was a little disappointing with very few butterflies.
The Bonsai Garden had an amazing number of different types of trees grown into miniatures, such as fig, frangipani, and podocarpus. We reached the Bamboo garden, on the far side of the lake, by crossing a wooden bridge. There are 250 varieties ofbamboo in China, many represented here, some with differently shaped leaves, or with obviously-patterned trunks, one like tortoise shell. Really attractive is the black bamboo, which seems to be a smaller plant. The buildings and the walkway along the lake are made of gorgeous varnished golden bamboo, which reflected the setting sun at the end of the day. There’s something peaceful about wandering amongst groves of bamboo, quiet, green, leafy, even here at the Expo, so it’s easy to see why the Chinese have loved bamboo for so long and why it features so much as various housewares and in poems, paintings, and folklore.
The international gardens we saw were generally well done, notably that of Thailand with exquisite orchids, and the small pretty British Garden, emphasizing the importance of Chinese plants to British gardeners, especially the rhododendron.
The big International Hall, regarded as the most important indoor exhibition hall, was also rather busy. People could buy “passports” in the hall and get stamps at all the countries (for example Zimbabwe, Sudan, Austria, Djibouti), which seemed very popular, especially with the Chinese tourists—perhaps a symbol of the world opening up for the Chinese people.
The Man and Nature Hall had photographs with text, a good overview of man’s effect on nature and the environment. Upstairs was a wonderful display of different natural rocks and stones that have been collected for their unusual size, shape, coloring or weathering and then mounted on a wooden (usually) base. Some are eye-catching, or beautiful, many of the surfaces resemble delicate landscape paintings. They are similar to an exhibit of Spirit Stones from China at the Art Institute in Chicago in June 1999.
Entrance to the Expo was 100 yuan each (about US$12.50), which is expensive by Chinese standards, but huge crowds came in, so they obviously felt it was worth it. A small weekly newspaper, “Garden Gazette”, was the official publication of Expo ‘99, nicely done and informative with lists of forthcoming events.
If you go: Kunming can be reached easily by air from Hong Kong, Beijing and Bangkok. There are many clean, international-style hotels, such as Holiday Inn, Marriot, and the Kunming Hotel. Taxis around the city are plentiful, and some Chinese people speak a little English. Weather is perennially mild, in contrast to the east coast of China.