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Nola & Michael Fenech

Exploring Lotus Cultivars of China

by Nola and Michael Fenech
Mulbring NSW Australia
Click images to enlarge

We set out in June of 2009 to visit China at the peak viewing time for lotus. Our aim was to see some of the huge number of lotus cultivars grown there. We had previously been to China to see lotus growing wild in natural systems.* This was incredibly scenic and enjoyable but, as nursery owners, we now wanted to see how growers in China grow and display their lotus.

China has a long history of growing lotus covering some thousands of years. Over time plants have been developed that are far from their wild relatives in form, size and colour. These were what we wanted to see. Our guide for the trip was Grant Mitchell. He has traveled to China many times over 25 years and had many contacts there for us to meet.

Our first destination was Lotus Hill Resort in Panu. This is a massive reserve includes huge areas of ancient quarry turned into a water gardeners' paradise. We spent hours rambling around the grounds and attended a lotus-themed show. We were made most welcome by our hosts and began to realize how much there was to see.


Lotus Mountain quarry


Lotus Mountain ^ >



National Garden of Aquatic Vegetables, Wuhan Institute of Vegetable Science
Our next stop was Wuhan. Here we visited the edible water plant institute (National Garden of Aquatic Vegetables, Wuhan Institute of Vegetable Science) and were shown around by staff .They described their progress with large edible tuber lotus.

 
National Garden of Aquatic Vegetables,
Wuhan Institute of Vegetable Science


Also in Wuhan, at the Lotus Research Center, we could easily believe that they had over 400 varieties of lotus, from the tiniest to the huge, all gorgeous.

< Lotus Research Center >


The Wuhan Botanical Gardens are massive in scale. One interesting display is their enormous aquariums, over 2 meters (6 feet) tall and wide, each with displays of water plants growing as if in natural water bodies.


Wuhan Botanical Gardens ^ >


From Wuhan we traveled to the mountains and world heritage area of Tianmen Mountain Forest Park. Here towering mountains and awe inspiring cliff walks astounded us. These were the inspiration for Pandora of Avatar fame.  


A visit to a lotus park and nursery outside Zhangjiajie revealed acres of lotus of all shapes and sizes, and a lotus feast for lunch.
     
Our next stop was Hangzhou. Here their lakes, gardens and silk market were all good examples of typical Chinese culture and design, with many open spaces enjoyed by all.

From here we traveled to Ningbo where we met with a large scale water-scape consultant and nursery owner who showed us some of his works -- including floating beds of water plants to improve water quality in canals and the nursery where he grows the stock for the projects he directs. 
   


Floating islands in a canal

 
Mass cultivation area

Following this we went to Qiaotou where we were welcomed by the local committee for the lotus exhibition held there annually. We were shown their nursery and catalogue which revealed the varieties they grow. Local media filmed us as visitors who had come from the other side of the world to see their lotus. 

The next day found us going to Shenzen City and then to Fairy Lake. We saw extensive lakes and gardens with themed gardens within, including lotus, water plants, shade plants, orchids, and a beautifully designed rain forest walk.


Next we traveled to Sanshui’s Lotus World. This extensive ecological theme park includes hundreds of cultivars, lakes and a theater. And a great display of night flowering waterlilies and Victoria. 

Knowing our interest in lotus and water plant foods we were offered dishes including these items at almost every meal. They were invariably tasty. Here are just a few. 
     


Lotus pancake


Lotus stir fry


Deep fried lotus petals

In this article we have given the briefest glimpse of what there is to see. Our photos went well over 1000. Here are just a few of the lotus varieties we saw. 


 

 

This last image is of the thousand petalled lotus. We didn't attempt to count them but, when cut, the flower head weighed well over a kilo (over two pounds). Our 2009 trip was overwhelming in introducing us to the variety and beauty of Chinese lotus cultivars. We could not have been made more welcome and it is one of our most cherished trips.

The tour leader was Grant Mitchell, “The Lotus Emperor”, who has 25 years of travel experience in China, other parts of Asia and the world. He has been a keen gardener all his life and has spent the last eighteen years specializing in growing and hybridizing water plants, particularly lotus.

     
Grant is a former board member of the International Waterlily & Water Gardening Society, often lectures at the China Lotus Association Symposium, and is an internationally recognized water garden/plant photographer. He has had numerous articles and photographs about water gardening published around the world. Through his vast experience and contacts in China and Asia, Grant shows you the real China and often takes you to places far from the “tourist trail”. 

* Read about the 2007 Lotus Tour of China
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