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Diggin’ In: Garden stalwarts from the other side of the globe

March 21, 2016
 

Art by day…magic by night.

That’s the simple description of "LanternAsia," an exhibit of Chinese art you can see at Norfolk Botanical Garden now through April 30.

The simplicity stops there.

"There are more than 30 scenes in this one-mile walking tour," says Kelly Welsh, marketing and communications director at the botanical garden in Norfolk, Va.

"During the day, witness the craftsmanship and detail of this magnificent art. By night, the sculptures light up the night. It’s really two different experiences."

The exhibit also provides insight into the many Asian plant collections at the botanical garden — www.norfolkbotanicalgarden.org.

"When you think about the plant pallet that makes up the typical southeastern Virginia garden, it is amazing just how many of them come from East Asia," says Les Parks, curator of herbaceous plants at the botanical garden.

"Nandinas, crape myrtles, hydrangeas, azaleas, liriope, Chinese hollies, Japanese hollies and many other plants are so common one might mistakenly consider them native."

Why are so many of these stalwarts of the local landscape from the other side of the globe?

"Simple — they come from a climate so similar to Hampton Roads Virginia — hot humid summers, adequate rain, and relatively mild winters — that they thrive here.

"Just because they thrive here doesn’t mean we should ignore our own native plants. Both can be part of a diverse garden."

Asian beauties

Here are three Asian plants at Norfolk Botanical Garden that relate to the LanternAsia exhibit, according to Les Parks:

—Tea Camellia, or Camellia sinensis

The tea camellia is native to broadleaved evergreen forests in China and in neighboring countries of Southeast Asia, according to Parks. Tea is made from the vegetative buds and young leaves of Camellia sinensis. The tea camellia can be a worthy addition to Southern gardens. It is usually the first camellia to bloom, sometime in October, with small white flowers surrounding a yellow boss of stamens. The small to medium height shrubs are usually very cold hardy in Hampton Roads, and prefer well drained soils in partly shaded gardens. Cold hardy to Zone 6.

—Japanese Maple, or Acer palmatum

Norfolk Botanical Garden is a great place for "momiji-gari," or "maple tree viewing." Japanese culture recognizes viewing the fall color of maples as a significant spiritual experience … one with nature, according to Parks. In the 8th century, maples began appearing in Japanese poetry, and are synonymous with some of the most famous Japanese works of art. Japanese maples are the most commonly used tree for bonsai, and Japan takes maple leaves one step further — eating them! The harvested leaves are deep fried in a yummy tempura batter. Acer palmatum may be native to Japan, North and South Korea, eastern Mongolia and southeastern Russia, but there is no doubt that Japan has the strongest connection to this magnificent tree, says Parks. Cold hardy to Zone 5.

—Ginkgo/Maidenhair Tree, or Ginkgo biloba

The gingko tree is truly a living fossil — 250 million years ago, well before the dinosaurs, ginkgo species grew worldwide and were a bridge between primitive and modern plant forms, according to Parks. Today there is only one species left, which is native to China, though there is some doubt that any remain in the wild. However, the tree is widely planted around the world, and is chiefly valued for its beautiful fall foliage and resilient nature. Female trees produce a fruit whose flesh has a very disagreeable odor, but the nut inside can be roasted and eaten. In traditional and modern medicine it is used to address a variety of cognitive complaints. Though they are slow, ginkgoes are adaptable, easy to grow and can live for centuries, says Parks. Cold hardy to Zone 4.

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