This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Leaving the south garden described in my last letter, I walked onwards to the Moutan Nurseries. They are situated near the village of Fa-who, about five or six miles west of Shanghae, and in the midst of an extensive cotton country. On the road I met a number of Coolies, each carrying two baskets filled with Moutans in full flower, which were on their way to the markets for sale. When I reached the gardens I found many of the plants in full bloom, and certainly extremely handsome. The purple and lilac-colored kinds were particularly striking. One, a very dwarf kind, and apparently a distinct species, had finely cut leaves, and flowers of a dark velvety purple, like the Tuscany Rose of our gardens. This the Chinese call the "black" Moutan, and I believe it is the same which Dr. Lindley has described in the Journal of the Horticultural Society, and named P. atrosanguinea. Another kind called the "tse," or purple, has double flowers of a large size: this is probably the variety reported to have 1000 petals, and which is said to exist only in the garden of the Emperor. The third is called the "lan," or blue: this is a lilac variety, with flowers of the color of Glycine sinensis.
There are others of various shades of purple, perfectly distinct from these, and equally fine.
The double whites are also numerous and handsome. The largest of these Dr. Lindley has named P. globosa, but there are four or five others nearly as large and double. Some of them have a slight lilac tinge, which gives a richness to the color. The most expensive is one called "wang," or yellow, by the Chinese: it is a straw-colored variety, rather pretty, but not so handsome as some of the others.
The reds, (Hong,) are also numerous. Curious enough, those kinds which are common in Canton and England, are rare here. There are about half a dozen of new varieties of reds in these gardens: one of them, called "Van-yang-hong" by the Chinese, is the finest flower I ever saw. The flowers are of a clear red color, unlike any of the others, perfectly double, and each measures about ten inches across. Altogether I numbered about thirty distinct varieties in these gardens.
Nearly all these fine varieties of the Moutan are quite unknown in Canton. This may seem strange in a country where the people are proverbially fond of flowers, but the Chinese are so machine-like in all their movements, that after a little acquaintance with them, we cease to wonder at the apparent anomaly. The fact is, the Canton gardens are supplied with Moutans by another district, which lies much farther to the west than Shanghae. From time immemorial the same gardens have supplied these flowers; they came always by the same road, and at the same time of the year. Shanghae, until the close of the last war, never seems to have had any connection with Canton, in so far as flowers were concerned, consequently these fine varieties of the Tree Paeony never found their way to the south, and from thence to Europe.
The Moutan gardens are numerous, but each is upon a very small scale. They look more like cottage gardens than anything else, and are managed in the same way as gardens of this description generally are, namely, by the members of the family. The female part of the community seem to take as much interest in the business as the males, and are very avaricious and fond of money. I invariably found I had to pay higher prices for the plants when they were consulted on the matter. The soil of these gardens is a rich loam, well manured, and thus rendered lighter in texture than that of the surrounding country in which the cotton grows.
The propagation and management of the Moutan seems to be perfectly understood by the Chinese at Shanghae, much better than it is in England. Our nurserymen always complain that they cannot propagate it with facility, and consequently this fine flower is invariably high in price. I will tell you how the Chinese manage the business, in order that your nursery readers may give the system a trial.
In the beginning of October large quantities of the roots of a herbaceous Paeony are bench, the scions are then brought from the plants which it is desirable to increase. Each scion used is not more than one and half or two inches in length, and is the point of a shoot formed during the bygone summer. Its base is cut in the form of a wedge, and inserted in the crown of the finger-like tuber just noticed. This is tied up or clayed round in the usual way, and the operation is completed. When a large number of plants have been prepared in this manner, they are taken to the nursery, where they are planted in rows about a foot and a half apart, and the same distance between the rows. In planting, the bud or point of the scion is the only part which is left above ground; the point between the stock and scion, where the union is destined to take place, is always buried beneath the surface. Kaempfer states that the Chinese propagate the Moutan by budding; but this must haye been a mistake, as budding is never practiced in the country, and is not understood.
He was probably deceived by the small portion of scion which is employed, and which generally has only a single bud at its apex.
Many thousands of plants are graded in this manner every autumn, and the few vacant spaces which one sees in the rows, attests the success which attends the system; indeed, it is rare that a graft fails to grow. In about a fortnight the union between the root and the scion is complete, and in the following spring the plants are well established and strong. They frequently bloom the first spring, and are rarely later than the second, when they are dug up and taken to the markets for sale, in the manner I have described. When each has only one stem and one flower bud, it is of more value in the eyes of the Shanghae nurserymen, than when it becomes larger. In this state it is more saleable, it produces a very large flower, and it is easily dug up and carried to the market. I could always buy large plants at a cheaper rate than small ones, owing to these circumstances.
In the gardens of the Mandarins it is not unusual to meet with the Tree Paeony of great size. There was one plant near Shanghae which produced between 300 and 400 blooms every year. The proprietor was as careful of it as the Tulip fancier is of his bed of Tulips. When in bloom it was carefully shaded from the bright rays of the sun by a canvas awning, and a seat was placed in front on which the visitor could sit down and enjoy the 6ight of its gorgeous flowers. On this seat the old gentleman himself used to sit for hours every day, smoking pipe after pipe of tobacco, and drinking cup after cup of tea, while all the time he was gazing on the beauties of his favorite "Moutan wha." It was certainly a noble plant, and well worthy of the old man's admiration; long may he live to sit under his awning and enjoy such a sight. - Gardeners' Chronicle.