Allan Armitage’s Plant Adventures in China

Writing for Greenhouse Grower has definitely made me famous. How else can one explain the invitation from the Beijing Botanical Garden to address plant people, researchers, growers, and students about plants, trends, and observations for a few days in the Big Apple of China?

After a 16-hour jaunt on the plane, my wife Susan and I landed in Beijing.The next day, I was scheduled to speak to landscapers, growers, and designers in the Beijing area. Imagine my surprise when 300 people showed up to hear a fellow they didn’t know and couldn’t understand. I talked about trends, such as containers and baskets, smaller spaces, and demographic shifts. But what they most wanted to hear were my opinions on some of the new and popular annuals and perennials that might work in their area. Beijing is hot in the summer and reasonably cold in the winter, likely in USDA Zone 6/7.


Information-Hungry Plant People are Universal

A few attendees took notes during the presentation, but with each image, most rose up in unison and took a photo with their phones or tablets. It became obvious that plant people in China appreciate good content. At the end of the presentation, I was tired and thought for sure the audience was worn out, too.

However, my host, Dr. Ling Guo, Curator of Living Collections at the Beijing Botanical Garden invited people to the perennial collection at the Garden. More than 100 people showed up. I was quickly fading, but what was I to do? We did an Armi-Walkabout for another hour.

My Whirlwind Tour of Horticultural Hotspots

The next morning I visited the famous Beijing Florascape Company. They are young-plant propagators, finishers, landscapers (Tiananmen Square is one of their contracts), retailers, and plant researchers.

Li Lifang, the Vice Director of the Floriculture Research Institute at the company, and her colleagues, showed me around the extraordinary 6 acres of greenhouse facilities, gleaming with modern automation and up-to-date production practices. I shared with them my thoughts about trends in marketing, updates on research, and my experiences in trialing new cultivars. I was certainly impressed with the facilities and the professionalism, and I look forward to visiting again.

On this horticultural tour of Beijing, a visit to the prestigious Beijing Forestry University was a must. Dr. Yike Gao asked me to give an evening lecture to students in ornamental horticulture and landscape architecture. I was surprised to see more than 100 welcoming faces awaiting me. They were anxious for plant information, as well as the future of plant breeding and the role of landscape architecture in the future. Without a doubt, I learned a good deal more from them than they did from me.

Horticulture Knows No Boundaries

What I really want to share from my trip is the feeling of being surrounded by inquisitive people who took the time to interact with me. Once again, they showed me that we are all dealing with the same passions, problems, and opportunities, regardless of language or time zone.

In closing, I am reminded of the American writer Henry Miller’s thoughts on travel: “One’s destination is never a place, but always a new way of seeing things.”