THE Shanghai Chenshan Botanic Garden in Songjiang, with 10,000 plant species over its 207 hectares, is not only the biggest park of its kind in East China but also perhaps one of its best.
Opened about three years ago, the garden spans everything from native and foreign exotic plants to geological features such as an old quarry and mining tunnel. There are individual gardens featuring medicinal herbs, magnolias, osmanthus and roses, and a massive greenhouse filled with succulents, orchids and other tropical plants. Amid the décor of a classical Chinese garden, there are lakes, ponds, an island, a pagoda and even Shanghai’s largest waterfall. The park also contains a botanical research center.
TripAdvisor, an Australian travel website, gives the botanical garden a four-star rating and ranked it 55th of the top 838 attractions in Shanghai. “If you are tired of city life and want to get close to nature, this botanic garden is the place for you,” one enthusiastic foreigner who visited the site last year wrote in comments on the website.
The park was designed by German landscape architects Valentien + Valentien, and reports say up to US$350 million was invested in its creation, under the sponsorship of the Shanghai government, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the State Forestry Administration.
The botanic garden is about 30 kilometers from the center of Shanghai and easily accessible by public transport.
It was built around nine hills. According to the architects’ website, “A wide, sculptural modeled ring surrounds both the inner garden and one of the hills, like a bowl. The ring stands for the world, in the inner area mountain, water and sky are the dominating spatial themes.”
There’s certainly something for everyone in this splendid setting.
The core exhibition area is comprised of 36 theme gardens surrounded by a 4,500-meter greenbelt filled with plants from five continents.
The 12,600-square-meter greenhouse is a popular favorite of visitors. It houses more than 3,000 breeds of tropical plants.
The attention to detail is awe-inspiring. For example, for people with sight disabilities, the Garden of the Blind is filled with non-toxic, thornless plants with unique shapes and strong scents. A Braille system and audio systems in Chinese and English help visitors appreciate the flowers, plants and trees.
The botanic garden is one of the world’s most important repositories for plant preservation. Of its 10,000 species of plants, about 1,500 are indigenous to the East China, making it the largest concentration of such flora in the world.
In 2010, the park collected 107 endangered species of plants, some of them very rare. Two years later, Professor Liu Baodong from Harbin Normal University donated several human-bred seeds of Isoetes sinensis, the country’s first-level protected plant, to the botanic garden.
The long-term goal of the park is to collect all the world’s 30,000 plant species in one place.
The seasons each cast a different mood to the park.
In spring, the garden hosts the annual international orchid festival, displaying more than 1,000 orchid species. Horticulturists are on hand to explain the different species to orchid lovers. In May, Chenshan Botanic Garden’s Rose Island garden blooms with a burst of 500 rose species in an area of 6,000 square meters. Varieties include hybrid teas, floribundas, climbers, ramblers, oregolds and Chinese roses.
In summer, the night safari tour of the gardens is quite popular. Visitors marvel at mysterious splashing in the brooks and listen to frogs croaking. Insect-attracting lights reveal a host of critters not seen during daytime hours.
In autumn, late-blooming flowers grace the park. Even in winter, a walk through the solitude of long shadows is a spiritual experience.
This is a park for families. There is a children’s garden, grassy picnic areas and even boat rides on the lake. The children’s garden, with bright pink, yellow and orange mushrooms at the entrance, features playground activities including sandpits, climbing frames and trampolines.
Among other amenities are the visitor’s center, exhibition hall, restroom facilities, snack bars and a first-aid station.