26 Sept 2018

An Invitation from China

Bruce Langridge

I’ve just returned from a fascinating few days at the Fairy Lake Botanical Gardens in Shenzhen in south China.

I was invited there by the Chinese Union of Botanical Gardens and Li Shan of the Department of Public Service and Education, who I first met here in Wales a couple of years ago when she was on a study tour of British botanic gardens. We talked then about the various ways with which I worked with volunteers to help me with wildlife surveys, research, visitor engagement, tour guiding, events, art and interpretation.

This must have resonated with Li Shan who was organising a 3-day training event about working with volunteers for 30 delegates from over 20 different Chinese botanic gardens, and for which she wanted a British perspective. I went with Kew Gardens’ Volunteer Co-ordinator Amanda Le Poer Trench who talked about the work of Kew, the work of her 800+ volunteers and the more technical details of creating a volunteer plan, whilst I introduced the National Botanic Garden of Wales and talked specifically about the research, interpretation and educational work that volunteers helped me with. Later discussions with delegates and Fairy Garden staff covered volunteer activities such as collecting wildflower seeds, running pollination surveys and fungus days and creating exhibitions of volunteers’ artwork and photography.

It was fascinating to see and hear how Chinese botanic gardens are at the forefront for practising environmental education and for advocating for plant conservation, and how they are now beginning to work with volunteers to help them. The Fairy Lake (Xianhu) Botanical Garden is leading the way. Located on the edge of Shenzhen, a new high-tech city of over 13 million people, the garden was opened in 1988 and attracts over 4 million visitors a year.  Spread across 1300 acres, this huge garden contains a wide variety of fascinating and beautiful themed gardens which I heartily encourage you to visit. My favourites were its petrified forest garden filled with fossilised trees, a bonsai garden around the perimeter of a pond, a glasshouse of aloes and a shade garden with imaginative displays of mosses and sub-tropical plants.  Despite it being the non- flowering and non-fungi season, and with parts cut off after the destructive passage of mega typhoon Mangkhut a few days earlier, you could safely spend a few days exploring all it has to offer.

In addition to a busy Buddhist temple, we were also proudly shown a delightfully designed meeting point and resource area for the volunteers.

Since beginning to work with volunteers in 2015, there are now over 100 volunteers at Fairy Lake carrying out duties from interpretation, environmental education, butterfly monitoring, conserving herbarium specimens, photography, information guides and nursery gardening, and their enthusiastic and friendly attitude is proving an inspiration for other botanical gardens across China. The volunteers I met reflected the overwhelmingly friendly and respectful attitude of the staff to myself and Amanda, qualities which makes me hope that we can establish a long-term relationship between our Welsh garden and the Fairy Lake Botanical Garden.

I would like to add a personal thank you to Li Shan for taking such great care of us, to Ferny Zhang for so cheerily helping us to actually get to China despite Typhoon Mangkhut and to the Fairy Lake Botanical Garden’s Head of Science and Education Dr. Shouzhou Zhang, and his team, for making us feel so welcome.