Global Gardens: Plants of Asia
This week, we continue our Global Garden tour with the beautiful blooms of Asia. You will find a variety of unique plants and diverse island ecosystems surrounding the Reflecting Pool, many of which come from North, Central and South Asia. Interestingly, North and Central Asia have their own aesthetic garden style which has been replicated around the world.
Chinese Kings and Emperors have shaped their landscapes throughout history with cultivated plants, captive animals, artificial lakes and mountains recreating landscapes from stories and legends. The earliest records of these Chinese gardens date back to 1600 BC.
During this time, Buddhist temples rapidly spread throughout the region. Each temple had a garden which became meeting places and inspiration for many of the greatest writers and scholars of the age. The poems and art that were formed around the garden inspired royalty to design even more beautiful gardens which reflected the aesthetics of the age.
Neighboring countries such as Japan and Korea sent diplomats, scholars, Buddhist monks, and translators to China to study these Buddhist temple gardens. These students brought back Chinese Gardening traditions to their homelands where they adapted them to fit their own sense of style.
When it comes to Japan’s aesthetic style and gardens, many westerners will think of tightly pruned bonsai, thousand bloom Chrysanthemum and spring cherry blossoms. This viewpoint actually ignores the heart of Japanese gardening aesthetic; which instead is designed to create a wild and native landscape rather than one that is densely pruned and formal. Formal pruning is used only to draw the visitors eye through the garden. Western gardens tend to focus more on color and flower than year round interest. Reason being, gardens are less relevant in everyday life within western cultures. Many of the plants chosen for this display have beautiful foliage.
Farfugium japonicum, the leopard plant is prominently planted in our Asian Global Garden. This Japanese native prefers moist areas and is valued for its glossy evergreen foliage. It is commonly found in Japanese gardens. Here in New York City, this plant is more suited as a houseplant in the winter.
Setaria palmifolia, also known as palm grass, is another plant native to Southeast Asia. The grass is very ornamental but is considered to be invasive in many tropical places due to its aggressive nature. Both the stem and the seeds are edible and are commonly cultivated in Papua New Guinea. A folk belief in Taiwan holds that the number of latitudinal creases on the leaf predicts the number of typhoons that will hit the area in the coming or current typhoon season. It is known locally as typhoon grass.
Many of Madison Square Park’s perennial garden favorites are native to Asia. Early blooming plants such as azlea, rhododendron, lilac, quince, cherry, and spirea all hail from Asia. Fall blooming plants such as anemone, toad lily and camellia are also native to this region.