Tuesday, March 10, 2009

# 40 Today's picture 090310

Newlyweds, May 2008, Wuhou Temple, Chengdu ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn 

Chickens, cows, grass and Chinese gardens

2008 Orchard Villas (Jinxiu Huayuan), Chengdu, Sichuan ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

This sign is posted just inside the surrounding wall that protects the western section of Orchard Villas, quite a nice housing complex in one of the more affluent parts of Chengdu. The "green belt" that is mentioned here is that scrabby patch of grass-like spinky stuff in the background. This botanical matter is a kind of ground covering most commonly found in Chinese classical gardens when an appropriate and attractive edging is needed or a space around more important things like trees or rockeries requires filling in. It can also be found potted on its own and I'm sure many a foreign visitor has questioned the purpose of these potted green spikes, wondering when those darn things are going to start shooting up flowers. Why else would you plant grass in a pot?

It is actually a lily (lilyturf) called Liriope and was named after Liriope, the mother of Narcissus (another plant name) by the river-god Cephissus. Its Chinese name is maidong, "winter wheat", as the leaves are evergreen. Western style "grass" was rarely a feature of a classical garden, although it can be seen today in the renovated scholar gardens of eastern China's Jiangnan area and the Imperial gardens of Beijing. Classical garden architects of former days thought that this kind of flat ground covering was boring and uninteresting - as one Chinese visitor snippily commented  upon seeing a big, green, unending British lawn: "Grass is cow fodder , it contains nothing to feed the intellect of an educated man".  

Back to the sign: I can understand the warning against walking dogs (and letting them defecate) in a public area but the poultry mentioned above is another matter all together. Why would there be a need for such a warning in an area as rich as Orchard Villas? And why would the rich people living there necessarily let their chickens peck around (or horrors breed!) in the common "green belt"? If they indeed kept farm animals in the middle of a city and in one of the richest parts of town wouldn't you think that they would let said poultry run around looking for food and fun in their own garden? That would still classify as "free range" wouldn't it? 

The crazy thing is that even people that live at posh addresses in China do keep chickens and roosters. Especially before Chinese New Year when many a foreigner remarks how they would like to ring the neck of the rooster that started crowing at four in the morning near their bedroom window. I hadn't given this phenomenon a thought until the earthquake last year when we camped out at China Gardens (beside Orchard Villas) and witnessed the moneyed crowd sleeping in their garages (or in their Ferraris or BMWs) with the rooster tied up next to them. Over here where I live in the not so rich part of town my neighbors keep their finger-lickin-good friends on the balcony.