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Seniors Learn the Ancient Art of 'Flower Power'

Historian Andy Ferguson presents 'Chinese Flower Culture,' including flowers that bloom all year.

Posted: February 5, 2008 12:16 a.m.
Updated: April 7, 2008 2:01 a.m.
 
Many Santa Clarita Valley residents may not be aware that flower cultivation is among China's ancient traditions. But thanks to Andy Ferguson, a writer and Chinese historian, SCV senior citizens have a greater understanding of Chinese flower culture.

Ferguson presented a PowerPoint slide presentation at the SCV Senior Center on Thursday afternoon.
His lecture, "Chinese Flower Culture," covered the history of Chinese flower cultivation. He talked to seniors about flower varieties, flower symbolism in Chinese culture, art and folklore.
The history of flower cultivation in China extends over 2,500 years.
"Yet, personally, I think and agree with the notion that flowers were cultivated much earlier in China," Ferguson said, inferring Chinese flower cultivation may predate written history.
Throughout China, flowers have been cultivated that blossom throughout the year, including numerous species in the spring; lotus flowers in the summer; forest-defying chrysanthemums in autumn; and winter sweets in winter.
"The earliest written records of flower cultivation date back to 1000 B.C.," Ferguson said. "There are a lot of folk stories of people cultivating flowers in Chinese villages."
Ferguson spoke to about 30 senior citizens about flower culture in China. He specifically talked about how certain flowers were symbolic of Chinese culture.
Over the course of several thousand years, flowers played a very significant role in Chinese cultural development.
One of the first flowers in recorded Chinese history was the orchid.
Ferguson said the Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote of orchids around 500 B.C.
He described the flower's beauty and labeled it as a rare, unappreciated treasure.
Ferguson shared several stories of how various poets and philosophers glorified flowers such as the orchid to symbolize ideals of Chinese culture.
Much of what was written was very illusory, with flower descriptions sometimes code for perceived self-greatness.
Confucius, for example, once wrote how orchids were an unappreciated, scented plant that was in some far-off mountain that was hard to access, hence unknown to the masses.
According to Ferguson, one interpretation of Confucius' description is that he was really talking about himself - that he viewed himself as an intelligent, virtuous person, yet struggled to gain employment with Chinese royalty.
Since no one would hire him, Confucius may have been using the orchid to describe himself as someone who was unappreciated and unknown to the masses.
Ferguson went on to explain about the heart-shaped peony flower, which grows during the spring. Ancient Chinese books state that the peony flourished during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 A.D.).
In describing the significance of the flower in Chinese culture, Ferguson shared a story of how the flower was the center of a love story that brought an end to the Tang Dynasty, a tale similar to Romeo and Juliet in Western culture.
"It was one of the great tragedies in Chinese history," Ferguson said.
The peony was also the imperial plant of the Sui Dynasty.
Among the winter plants that Ferguson discussed was the winter plum blossom tree, which is the official tree of Taiwan.
He told listeners that the plum blossom tree was symbolic of how mainland China viewed Taiwan.
The tree only flourishes during the coldest, harshest months of the winter season.
Apparently, the Chinese view Taiwan as the cold, baron and desolate island that did not conform with the mainland.
While there were many other folk stories of how flower cultivation shaped the development of Chinese culture, Ferguson also noted that flowers are still vital to modern China.
Today, there are various flower festivals and cultural rituals that center around specialized plants.
Ferguson coordinates two-week long tours to China to provide an opportunity to view China's flower culture first hand.
The next tour is the Peony Tour in April, which centers around the International Peony Festival in Luoyang, China.
For more information about the flower tours or about Chinese culture, visit www.southmountaintours.com. There are links to the flower tours and to various other Web sites focused on various aspects of Chinese Culture.


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