SHANGHAI Botanic Garden’s 82 hectares contain the most compact, yet diverse collection of plants in the heart of the city. It is the largest municipal botanical garden in China, with horticultural splendors that rotate through the seasons.
It all began as a plant nursery in 1954, famed for cultivating bonsai.
In the 1980s, the site was developed as a botanic garden, featuring 15 different parks resplendent with roses, pines, aquatic plants, azaleas, osmanthus, Chinese medicinal herbs, greenhouse tropical flowers and thousands of other horticultural species.
The bonsai garden, or “potted landscape,” remains one of the highlights of the garden, which is located in Xuhui District. It is a breathtaking tribute to the Chinese art of creating miniature landscapes in a container.
Rocks or tree gnarls may form the main body of a bonsai, which is then decorated with green plants, miniature houses, boats, bridges or animals. In essence, these cultivation feats represent the beauty and power of mountains and water in a small pot.
Shanghai Botanic Garden’s bonsai zone features more than 2,000 specimens. They line the courtyards and corridors.
A meandering corridor cleverly divides the area into different spaces, highlighting different types of bonsai, such as those made with tree gnarls, rocks or flowers. Even on a rainy day, visitors can easily enjoy this horticultural panoply.
Pine and cypress bonsai are two major types. They symbolize fortitude and the indomitable spirit of Chinese culture because they are evergreens that can withstand frost and snow.
Rows of bonsai of more than 10 breeds of pines and cypress are on display here. They are shaped, pruned and trimmed into different sculpted shapes, with vigorous branches suggesting toughness and uprightness.
Flower bonsai include plum blossoms, wisteria, begonias, pomegranate flowers, adding what might be considered a touch of femininity to the garden.
The rock bonsai area is highlighted by a 7-meter-long bonsai that reflects the magnificence of the Guilin karst hills and waterways, which have been called “the finest in the world.” Other features here include the potted rocks of Taihu Lake, cristobalite (a polymorph of quartz), stalactites, sandstone, pumice and reed tube stone. They represent the wonders of mountains and rivers — long a favorite theme of painters and poets.
Another must-see place in the garden is the Huang Daopo Memorial Hall, named in honor of a women who lived from 1245 to 1330. The daughter of a poverty-stricken family, Huang is considered a pioneer of early Chinese textiles.
She ran away from home when she was 10 after being sold into marriage by her family. She followed the Huangpu River from her home in the Songjiang District and then boarded a ship bound for the port of Yazhou in Hainan Province. On that southern island, she learned spinning and weaving from the local Li ethnic people.
Around 1295, Huang returned to Songjiang and began to teach local women about cotton spinning and weaving technology. She also produced suits and fine silk fabrics, and developed weaving machinery.
The memorial hall displays many tools she invented, such as fluffing machines, crushers and three-spindle treadle powered weaving looms.
A few steps away from the hall is the Textile Plants Hall, which exhibits a wide range of plants that can be used in dyeing, including bluegrass, madder, puccoon, hispid arthraxon and Chinese honey locust.
Visitors can also get a quick lesson in dyeing techniques and growing methods in the hall. Plant dye, which is eco-friendly and safe to use, is still being studied in modern times.
Outside the hall, a large pond features an array of aquatic plants. In summer, the pond is covered with a thick green blanket of lotus leaves, with blooming water lilies.
The Chinese cymbidium garden, with more than 300 varieties of orchids, sits to the south of the botanic garden. Orchids have long been revered by the Chinese. Ancient literati wrote of their beauty and symbolism as expressions of purity and nobility.
The garden’s name was inscribed by General Zhu De (1886-1976), who is best remembered as a pioneer in the Communist Party and a high-ranking political figure. He contributed 22 pots of precious orchid breeds to the garden.
The site also contains a group of orchids donated by the patriotic hero Chang Hsiao-liang (1901-2001), who was nicknamed the “young marshal.”
Within the Grand Conservatory are towering palms and more than 3,500 varieties of tropical plants.
No matter what the season, Shanghai Botanic Garden is worth a visit.
In springtime, big flower shows are held. Roses, peonies, azaleas, and cherry, peach and plum blossoms create a feast for the eyes and for shutterbugs.
In summer, the bamboo garden, with its more than 100 species, provides a refreshing retreat from the sun and heat. It’s also an ideal time to see lotus flowers.
In autumn, the garden is draped in color, with dazzling scarlet maple leaves and fluttering yellow poplars. This is the best time to visit the osmanthus garden.
And don’t be put off by winter. When the weather turns cold, the greenhouse conservatory provides a haven of quiet and luxuriant greenness.
The botanic garden offers discounts to senior citizens, so it’s not uncommon to see aunties and uncles wandering the pathways, dancing or even practicing on musical instruments.
There was once an amateur Shanghai opera-singing group of seniors in a pavilion hidden in the bamboo forest, but that has replaced by a popular poker game.
Address: 1111 Longwu Road
Opening hours: 7am-5pm
Admission: 15 yuan
There are admission fees of 7 yuan to the bonsai and the orchid gardens, and the Grand Conservatory costs 30 yuan.
How to get there: Take Metro Line 3 to the Shilong Road Station, and then walk another 10 minutes.