When you’ve spent a while in a city, you need a dose of green. And yes, there are city parks and constructed gardens all around in Shenzhen, but I was yearning for “real nature”, aching to see actual wild flowers. I’d heard of Shenzhen Botanical Garden, but wasn’t sure if it was worth a visit. As an ex-pat in China, you rely on hearsay more than solid information- that’s due to the language barrier, but also because the internet is hugely restrictive. Google doesn’t work, nor Facebook, nor twitter.. so ex-pats survive by means of recommendation. Some might say that’s better than a bunch of skewed 4 star reviews though..
Anyway, I arranged a visit to Shenzhen Botanical Garden. For ease and sanity, I didn’t choose to navigate my own way there (it’s way beyond the end of the metro line!).. I booked a private taxi with a booking service we know (again, via ex-pat recommendation)- more costly than taxis, etc, but when travelling you have to offset stress value against monetary value sometimes.
I was swiftly collected at my apartment block and taken the hour long journey to the gardens. Looking at the map, I couldn’t quite work out where the entrance was, so was trusting my taxi driver on that. He got it right, and we arranged to meet 4 hours later.
I navigated the broken line that was masquerading as a queue (people seldom queue in China) and bought my 15 RMB ticket – that’s less than £2, guys! So I entered, grasping an actually-very-good map!
The journey from the entrance to the start of the gardens is a fair walk- unless you are Mandarin-confident and jump on the shuttle bus! Nevertheless, it’s enjoyable and shady. Shade is important, as South China gets very hot and sticky, and usually requires a fresh T-shirt every hour.
The botanical garden was so glossy, and neatly planted, it almost didn’t have the wild feeling I’d been craving. But, heck, I can’t mark it down for simply being neat! I saw enough Asplenium to fill a sports hall, as they were strapped to a plethora of handsome trees. So, after a 30 minute walk, I started to arrive at the ‘attractions’. First, I veered off to the Orchid Garden.
My natural clumsiness meant I stepped gingerly on the slimy ground, but thoroughly enjoyed the planting. Plants could have been a little better labelled, but I indulged in Begonias, various Gesneriads and Ferns of all shapes and sizes, all set to a backdrop of Philodendron Xanadu!
I was particularly enthralled by the border-planted African Violets (which kinda blew my tiny English mind!) and the healthy and happy Tillandsia usneoides (happier than any bathroom I’ve ever hung it into!)
Every border in the botanical garden was refined to perfection, and the main border lawn edged with the brightest of bedding plants. Upon closer inspection, I could see that most were dwarf versions of themselves. Hmm, that’s kinda cool, but also odd, as those plants will have been treated with a chemical. 6 inch Cleome, anyone?? Nah, mate!
Seeing bedding schemes similar to those in Europe interspersed with monsters like Strelitzia and Ravenala was kinda ace though. I’m guessing bedding is a year-round thing here, so different to England. The winter in Shenzhen is the same temperature as a respectable English summer. However, it’s too cold for the Chinese, and they shut all the public pools and ‘summery’ things in early November. What’s a swim-hungry English boy to do??
Anyway, back to the plants! My legs took me off in yet another direction, as I skirted the edge of the grounds, looking upon Hongfa Temple, but opting out of the noisy crowds. I continued around and past the Buddhist Pine Garden, which was serene and entirely opposite. Quiet spots in China are hard to come by, so I soaked this area up for a while!
I walked through the Bamboo Valley next, hoping for an Insta shot, but it didn’t have the same impact as those famous Kyoto ones, darn it! Nevertheless, it brought me out at a cafe. This was odd. Unlike English tourist attractions, Chinese ones are not littered with cafes, gift shops and such. Refreshments are usually harder to find. I’d covered this off by bringing a backpack of snacks, supplemented by a frappe at this surprise cafe.
Next to the cafe was a tree I’d seen on TV the week before. This is a tree planted by Deng Xiaping in 1992, who revolutionised the city of Shenzhen by investing in tech and such. This didn’t just propel Shenzhen forward, but also China as a country and force.
I then decided to navigate towards the Cactus House, which would be a highlight for me. I weaved my way around by the lake, dodging happy couples and plenty of “Instagram husbands”, although these photos would be finding themselves on WeChat (the Chinese social network)- I also passed some pretty awesome Waterlilies and the Aquatic Plant Collection.
But, alas, the Cactus House was closed for renovations! I could barely contain my disappointment. I stomped up the hill, but there was a surprise in store for me!
I’d heard the phrase ‘petrified forest’ before, but couldn’t quite remember how it looked, or what it was. On the hillside were more than 600 petrified (fossilised) trees, brought from Inner Mongolia and other parts of China. These are trees that have basically “turned to stone”, they are the fossilised remains of actual trees!
‘Petrified’ means that the organic material of the tree has been replicated with minerals, yet it keeps the original structure, so it kinda works like a 3D representation of the original tree! How amazing is that!? The surrounding planting was equally as thrilling, with tonnes of cloud-pruned trees, Cycads, Bougainvillea, Philodendron and Pandanus, giving an ethereal space. It was also deathly quiet, helped by the fact that it’s the furthest point to walk to in the park! I pledged to come back here for a picnic sometime!
The time was ticking down on the clock by now, and I had to get back to my taxi. I edged around the lake, passing a few visitors here and there. It was generally a calm place to be, although I’m told it gets much busier at weekends! You should also prepare yourself for being stared at, if you’re a Westerner! To most Chinese eyes, I look otherworldly, with beard, tattoos et al. I actually spotted a couple of people taking surreptitious photos of me! It works both ways though, I must admit I took a sneaky photo of a girl in an awesome purple velour tracksuit!
All in all, an excellent day trip, to a shiny botanical garden. You can tell this has been invested in, and it’s all the better for it. There are plenty of English language signposts, and information boards too! It’s also do-able by public transport, probably easiest if you take the Metro Line 2 to Huangbeiling, then hop in a taxi for the last 14 minute journey. Go visit today!