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Planning A Chinese Garden

A traditional Chinese garden is very ornamental in design, from the flowering plants and trees, to the formal pavilions and bridges. The actual garden design can be adapted to a much smaller scale that will fit into the backyard or front yard, and still include buildings similar to the pavilions found in the famous Chinese garden cities of Zhangzhou, Shuzhou, and Hangzhou.

Bamboo gazebos, common in gardens of many kinds, also come with a Chinese look and feel to them and can be the ideal pavilion for a Chinese garden. The main part of the Chinese garden, as with any other garden, are the flowering plants and trees. Below is a list of plants and trees common in a Chinese garden:

Pine trees. These trees, while common throughout most of the United States, symbolizes strength and endurance. Chances are you might have one or even a few pine trees growing in your yard, which can easily be integrated into a Chinese garden. If not, young pines can easily be purchased through a local nursery during the late fall and early winter seasons.

Plum blossom trees, also referred to as prunus mume, has white, pink, or magenta flower blossoms of five petals and usually blossom in the spring but may blossom earlier in warmer climates. Like pine trees, plum blossom trees also symbolize endurance, because in China the flowers blossom in January and February. The fruit of this tree is ripe for picking during the summer months, and can be used in canning, to make jelly, in baking recipes, or just as a snack.

Peach blossom trees are a wonderful fruit tree for those who love the fruit and baking with peaches, such as peach cobbler and peach pie. In China, the peach tree symbolizes immortality.

Peach trees can be purchased at a local nursery in the late fall, and they are best planted before the winter season. Peach trees grow the best in warm climates and they like full sun. Peach blossoms are showy, with their small pink flower blossoms on the branches where they will later fall off and the fruit will develop. Once the fruit develops, peach trees require pesticides to keep insects from eating the fruit. Peach trees also like nitrogen, so use a fertilizer containing nitrogen to the base of the tree.

Cypress trees can also be added to your Chinese garden, for in China the cypress symbolizes death and the afterlife. Cypress trees like the full sun and can be planted in the springtime after the frost has gone. Cypress trees are widespread in Florida but can be grown in colder climates in the northern part of the United States.

Orange trees are also a part of the Chinese garden and are best suited to hot climates, like southern California, Arizona, and Florida. In China, orange trees symbolize birth and renewal. This fruit tree has star-shaped white flowers in the spring and start to bear fruit in the late summer. Orange trees can also be bought at a local nursery and planted during the early winter season. This tree likes the full sun and lots of water at least once a week during the hot summer days.

Kumquat trees are relatives of the orange trees and also favor hot climates to grow in. Small white flowers adorn the kumquat tree in the springtime. Kumquat trees will survive the coldest winters but produce more and better fruit when grown in a climate similar to that of orange trees. In China, kumquat leaves symbolize wealth while the fruit symbolizes unity and perfection. Kumquat trees can be planted in the early winter season. The fruit of this tree can be eaten raw, like an orange, or used in cooking, and making preserves.

Lotus flowers, even though they are an aquatic plant, can be grown on a small pond in the garden. They can even occupy the base of a fountain is one is already in your garden area. This beautiful pale pink flower has long been held sacred in Asia, from China to India. In China, the lotus symbolizes purity and beauty. Lotus plants require some type of container to hold the roots in so the plant can grow well. More detailed information on growing lotus flowers is found at: http://www.pondplants.com/planting_lotus.html.

Magnolia trees are also a symbol of purity, and there is a variety of magnolia trees to choose from. If you live in the southern states like Mississippi, the magnolia grows plentifully in that part of the nation. This flowering tree has beautiful, showy flowers that blossom in the summertime and come in a color range from white to pale pink and deeper pink. The magnolia likes full sun but can grow in partial shade.

Camellia flowers symbolize everlasting love in China and these flowering bushes prefer partial shade to grow well in. These showy flowers have big, floppy petals that come in pink, white, and coral colors. Soil with an acidity level is best for camellias to grow in but there should be no limestone in the soil. This bush should be planted in well drained soil after the ground is thawed from the last frost. Water immediately after the bush is planted, but avoid over watering the roots. This low maintenance plant is a beautiful addition to a Chinese garden.

Rhododendron and azalea bushes also grow well and are easy to maintain during the spring and summer season when they blossom. Rhododendrons have beautiful pink-lavender flowers while the azalea bush has red flowers. Both of these flowering bushes require only minimal fertilizing, acid mulches at the base of the bush, and weekly watering throughout the hot, dry summer months.

Gardenia bushes belong to the evergreen family and produce blossoms with a delightful scent. The flowers are either white or yellow in color, with petals that tend to curl underneath while the first layer of petals on top form a cup. They prefer well drained soil that is acidic and humid climates.

Peony flowers symbolize good luck and fortune in China and are frequently depicted in art. The petals of the peony have lobes, and come in pink, yellow, and white. Peonies bloom in the spring and summer seasons. These plants should be planted in partial shade in hot climates like the southern and southwest states.

Chrysanthemum flowers are also popular in China, as they are in Japan. In China, chrysanthemums symbolize simplicity and perfection and are used in teas and medicines. This is a delightful fall flower that comes in many colors. Plant the mums early in the fall and they will blossom throughout the early winter. These are hardy flowers so they will withstand even a few light snows.

You can use any combination of flowers and trees from the above list for your Chinese garden. They can be planted in any arrangement, such as the rhododendron and azaleas alternating with the magnolias near the fruit trees. Most Chinese gardens also have some type of natural water source but a fountain can be used here too. If there is a natural river or brook in your yard, a crescent shaped bridge can be added for a Chinese feel.

Another signature element of the Chinese garden is the use of porous rocks placed at different locations. Ask the local nursery if they carry such rocks. Chinese statuary in the shape of pagodas and the like can also be added to the garden.

No garden is complete without furniture and here, bamboo and rattan furniture make the perfect finishing touch to a Chinese garden. An Internet site like China Bamboo Garden.com carries this type of furniture.

Enjoy your Chinese garden!

By Mary Thatcher - I am a freelance writer and I also work for a trade magazine publishing company.  

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