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Priscilla Lynne Young

My mother loved her little garden in our small backyard in suburban Tampa, Florida. With a climate very much like that of Guangzhou and with many of the same flowering plants, the place of my youth was a sub-tropical paradise. However, I didn't appreciate it at the time.

My home state is in the southern-most in the United States. In 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon was looking for the mythical Fountain of Youth when his ships landed in the place we know as Florida. Of course, Ponce de Leon never found what he was looking for, but what he did discover was a land of lush greenery and flowering plants. So impressive was this new land that he called the region Pascua Florida, meaning Feast of Flowers or Festival of Flowers. Sounds a bit like Guangzhou, doesn't it?

As kids, neither my sister nor I could understand the appeal of getting on hands and knees to weed. It was hot and humid. There were mosquitoes. Yet, disappeared into the backyard my mother did everyday after work, despite the protests from my sister and me that she should make dinner first. Yet, mom was adamant about protecting her 30 minutes to unwind after a day of secretarial work. And when the weekend came, once we finished the household chores, my mother was out the door to the backyard or off visiting plant nurseries.

Now experiencing the "flower riot" that is Guangzhou and southern China, I am fondly reminded of my mother, who died in 2010 at age 83, and who revered all that grew and, especially, all that bloomed. She would be in ecstasy here. First, she would be excited to see so many of the same plants here as grow in Florida. Then, she would want to scrutinize everything that would be new to her.

Priscilla (left), her mother and sister

"What is this flower? What is this shrub? What is this tree?" I would like to ask mom. Some of the plants that grow here I can name – hibiscus, bird of paradise, Royal Poinciana, banyan – yet there are so many more that seem familiar to me but whose names I can't remember. Some may simply resemble others I knew back home but are totally new to me.

One of the flowering trees here that I do know is the kapok. The same spectacular red-flowering species as that gracing the Guangzhou landscape was introduced to me by my mother. Such an unusual and magnificent sight it was (it is not native to Florida), that the huge kapok tree on the eastern edge of Clearwater, Florida at the western shore of Tampa Bay became a tourist attraction. Sprouted from a seed brought back from India in the 1880s, the carefully nurtured seedling found a hospitable environment in the newly developing community. In 1957 a restaurant featuring a series of dining rooms surrounded by over-the-top European style walled gardens, replete with fountains, was built right next to the already famous tree. Named the Kapok Tree Inn – which quickly became as celebrated as the tree – it was my mother's favorite restaurant for special occasions. I heard all about the Kapok Tree Inn and the fabulous tree for years until my parents took my sister and me there for dinner when we were in our early teens, finally old enough, my mother reasoned, to appreciate such a place. I remember that the food was good, not spectacular. But the tree was.

Tillandsia cyanea

My parents liked taking us on car trips to parks or gardens anywhere within about a 50-mile radius (a little more than 80 kilometers) of Tampa. One of our family favorites was Cypress Gardens (in Winter Haven), named for the trees that grow in the fresh water rivers, lakes and swamps of the southern part of the U.S. Cypress Gardens was also a botanical garden, profuse with brightly colored annuals in formal plantings. Yet it was especially noted for its collection of azaleas in seemingly every color that plant can produce, from white to all shades of pink, orange and red, as well as lavender and fuchsia. Guangzhou also blooms with azaleas, such as those in Martyrs' Park, and their blossoms during the spring are just one more contribution to the city's veritable rainbow of flowers.

We used to live on a street in Tampa named for a flowering "climber" that can be seen creeping up trellises and spilling over walls and fences – both there and in Guangzhou. Bougainvillea was another of my mom's favorite plants, and she trained it to grow up trellises along the carport (a sort of open garage attached to the side of a house) to create a green enclosure punctuated by red flowers. Flowering climbers and vines are prolific in Guangzhou, and among them bougainvillea wanders up, down and around the city's gardens. However, this prolific grower is especially noticeable around the city's highways and bridges, a needed and much appreciated contrast to the man-made environment.


I left Florida for greater adventures in my early 20s, living and traveling in Europe for a couple of years, then settling for a few decades in Rhode Island, one of the six New England states in the northeast of the U.S. Now, entering the third year of my China adventure, I remain in awe of the teaming life that finds its way into any little plot or crack that will allow it and marvel at the ever-blooming magic of it all. And when I see a plant, tree or shrub that I can name, I smile and think that my mother would be happy to know that I learned a thing or two from her.

(By Priscilla Lynne Young) 

Editor:Vita Lin
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