“Let’s go to Shandong for the peonies!” was a statement uttered out of excitement by my good friend May over dinner one fine evening late last year but was one that we took very seriously. And with that earnestness, we put things into motion this year and by late April we saw ourselves heading to Heze (菏澤) in Shandong Province, China for the famous king of flowers.
Planning a trip to Heze, the peony capital of China (中國牡丹之都) had been tricky because if we went too early in April the flowers might not have bloomed or risked missing them all together if we were there too late in May. A decision had to be made and in the end we settled for the last week of April.
Our plan was to visit three places in Shandong — Heze for the peonies, Confucius’ hometown in Qufu (曲阜) and end with Mount Tai (泰山) at Tai’an (泰安).
When May’s Chinese friend Jing Hua informed her in mid-April in a slightly panic tone that the peonies were already in full bloom and she reckoned there might not be any flowers left by the time we were there, May could only console her that it would be ok even if there were just a few peonies left to greet us as it was too troublesome to change our itinerary.
Before we got to enjoy what we had planned for, we had to first endure a long day of travelling. We departed for Hong Kong from Kota Kinabalu at the crack of dawn and after a long layover, we eventually arrived at Jinan (濟南), the capital of Shandong province in Eastern China at 9pm after a 3-hour flight. Almost immediately after we were greeted by Jing Hua who had come to meet up with us from Beijing at the airport, we were hurried to the van that would take us on another 3-hour journey to Heze where we would put up for the night. Needless to say when we arrived at the hotel at midnight on the dot we were utterly exhausted.
We were glad to have Jing Hua, our hospitable host who made all the arrangements for us and looked after us well throughout the trip.
After we were well fed, we checked out from the hotel as after our visit to the peony garden just across the road from the hotel we would move on to our next destination, Qufu.
here we are…
We did miss the sea of tree peonies in the garden as they were destroyed by very heavy rain just a few days before we arrived. But we still managed to see some potted ones that were kept in the green house. Though these imperial flowers had past their best, we were delighted to seen them.
After the green house we took a guided tour around the garden. It was a chilly day at around 15⁰C but the morning air was fresh and we enjoyed the stroll tremendously.
Although we missed the sea of tree peonies (牡丹) in the garden, we got to see the late bloomers — the garden peonies (芍藥). The flowers of the garden peonies tend to be smaller (3 – 4 inches across) than the tree peonies (up to 12 inches). Nevertheless, we were just as happy to see them as they made up for our missed opportunity to see the tree peonies!
After we passed the field of garden peonies, the guide led us to something totally different at one corner of the garden next to a small temple…
After almost two hours of touring the peony garden it was time to day goodbye, but not before a couple of snapshots in front of the landmarks…
It was time well spent in a nice garden, breathing in the fresh crisp air, enjoying the relaxing stroll without the overwhelming crowds and viewing the delightful blooms.
Ahh… really, what would life be without flowers?
《牡丹》唐 . 皮日休