While in China the first time, I was invited by our hosts to organize a seed collecting trip to the same area in the future. I eagerly took the opportunity, and in September, 1997 our new group left the USA for Kunming, the capitol city of Yunnan.  


I was joined on this expedition by the following people:  



Don Howse - owner/operator of Porterhowse Nursery, Sandy Oregon


Mariah Steenson - plant buyer at Portland Nursery, Portland, Oregon  


Kelly Dodson - owner/operator of Reflective Gardens, Poulsbo, Washington


Sue Milliken - in transition, formerly of  Kate Brook Conifer Nursery, Vermont


Ted Herrington - grows bacteria for a living at University of British Columbia, but this is only part of his charm, being the comic relief that we could always count on, and a very good soul. He kept us laughing.


Diana Ballantyne - owner/operator - Oregon Trail Gardens, in Boring, Oregon




Jade Dragon Mountains

Jade Dragon Mountains



Yes, it was even better the second time around, despite the fact that the season had been the wettest in many years, and in spite of the early snow that kept us from reaching the higher altitudes; notwithstanding the persistent rain that, more days than not, found us in the field shuffling around in bulky raincoats, rainpants, and wet boots; wet seed spread out at night in rooms too small for proper drying, then bundling them up each morning for the new day’s trip; full days of driving on muddy rutted roads, narrow slippery mountain roads with sheer dropoffs that would tax the stomach of the most hardy mountain traveler. Nevertheless, we managed to come home with enough seed to keep us satisfied and busy for a long time, with high expectations, incredible indelible memories, and an eagerness to return. 





Large clusters of bright red arisaema seed,  A. consanquineum (common) and A. elephas for sure, and some unknowns, maybe A. franchetii, hanging from withering leaf stems, sometimes weighing them down to the ground, almost hidden in duff. A hike up a steep wooded slope and then, in the underbrush, a vivid red spot, nestled in a ruff of green bracts - it is Paris polyphylla to perfection, it’s seed head just popped open, revealing a perfect cluster of shiny red seeds, tantalizing, ready and waiting. Searching for and finally finding Podopyllum hexandrum, with fleshy, scarlet red, egg-shaped capsules hanging from beneath the dying leaves. On the Zhongdian plateau, near the Tibetan border, at 10,000’, the sun comes out for a day, the sky is intensely blue above yak-grazed meadows of Euphorbia nematocypha, Iris bullyana and Stellera chamaejasme v. chrysantha that were in such glorious bloom during my spring trip, but painted a different picture now with the vivid autumn-red clumps of the euphorbia stretching to the distant hills, tempered by the russet yellow of the dying iris foliage. The stellera that had been so abundant here has completely disappeared, without a trace. Mats of exquisite Gentiana sino-ornata, upward facing trumpets of vivid blue with varying white linear markings on the outside of the flower, filling wet meadows at the edge of Tianchi Lake, at 12,500’, so boggy that more than once water spills into my boots when I do not watch closely where I am stepping. With time and opportunity, I could have made enough selections in this meadow to overshadow the many named European forms many times over. We wander meadows of Gentiana veitchiorum, a species similar to G. sino-ornata but growing in drier conditions. The annual G. chungtienensis, a low, starry-flowered species, still carpets these sunny meadows, as it did in spring. Pale lavender blue Codonopsis pinifolius, and C. forrestii, wide open flat faced flowers, with narrow petals, a full 2 -3 “ across, pops up here and there, twining through the underbrush, easy to spot even as we drive by on the bus; dark blue aconitums scramble through unknown shrubs: delphiniums bloom at the side of the road. 


And unforgettable personal moments:


Memories of Dali - the first night:

Wandering down dark narrow cobblestone streets, past the few patrons that still sit at the outdoor tables of the dimly lit small street cafes - batiks glow in the warmth of the light of the few open shops  --  A walk in the park - dreamlike, mysterious - lavish pavilions half seen, half imagined - the curved marble bridge, the marble rail cool and smooth beneath our hands, faintly lustrous in the dimness of the scattered lights.  Above our heads, hundreds of fluted chalices of Datura drip moonlight on us, so sensually soft, intoxicating us with its rich perfume as we dance from table to table in the dark, laughing, drunk with fantasy, with feelings overflowing.


And the Tibetan monastary:

Located on the precipice of a steep hillside just outside of Zhongdian, a very large, very old open building, with many private niches. There is such a spiritual and peaceful energy contained here. It is thick with it. It emits from the ancient walls, the gold statues enclosed behind glass, precious for more than their jewels alone, the prayer rugs laid end to end on low wooden platforms running the length of the building towards the altar, the huge red pillars reaching to the high windowed ceiling, the human sized spot on the floor, worn clean and shiny by countless bodies prostrating themselves over so many years, the stair railing rubbed smooth and glowing by countless hands, the candles lit in the darkness, softly illuminating the walls ornate with painting, almost every inch of it decorated in some way, the old drums - I wanted to hear them, to feel them reverberate through me in the dimness of this place.  An old monk with shaved head and threadbare burgundy robe sits crossed legged near the door, softly chanting his prayers, over and over, in a world we can only imagine, oblivious to intruders. The young teenage monks, in newer burgundy robes, are curious, sneaking peeks at us when they can.  It is exalting


It is truly an experience that cannot be expressed fully in words.  

Collector's Nursery,16804 NE102nd Ave, Battle Ground, WA 98604, 360-574-3832 / dianar@collectorsnursery.com