A bit of fragrance clings to the hand that gives flowers.
“A country where flowers are priced so as to make them a luxury has yet to learn the first principles of civilization.”
This telling Chinese proverb provides insight to the importance of flowers in Chinese culture. During the two-week Chinese New Year Celebration, which begins on January 29th, Chinese households will be decorated with beautiful flower arrangements, blooming plants and fresh fruits. The Chinese feel that flowers represent rebirth and new growth in the New Year. Each flower has a symbolic meaning. Flowers can bring good luck and prosperity and without them there would be no fomation of fruits.
The special flower markets in Chinese communities are a sight to behold. San Francisco’s two-day flower fair took place last weekend in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown and drew over 400,000 people. The event offered traditional Chinese dance, music, art and cutural displays. Floral exhibitions at flower fairs display arrangements in shapes and designs that are that are auspicious for the New Year’s celebration. They might be shaped like Chinese pagodas, temples, ships and this year – like dogs to usher in the New Year.
Flower markets bloom in a riot of brilliant colors – unusual flowers, exquisite potted plants fruits, herbs, vegetables, gardening tools, birds and seasonal items are for sale. Peach blossom, plum blossom, mums, snapdraggons, water lilies, water narcissus, peony and camellia are favored for their auspicious symbolic meanings.
The peony was the national flower during the Qing Dynasty. Peach and plum blossoms are the gold standard for decorating. The sacred peach represents longevity and is of supreme importance in Chinese culture. Small peach trees are often displayed in treasured porcelain containers, It is believed, the older the porcelain, the longer the blossoms will bloom. Quince flowers are also popular around the New Year; in San Francisco, they bloom during this time and are often substituted for peach or plum.
The pine, bamboo, and plum (Japanese Apricot) are the ‘Three Friends of Winter,” a popular combination since the Song dynasty (960-1279). The rugged pine is a symbol of nobility and venerability; the strong, flexible bamboo symbolizes humility and fidelity. The bamboo and pine remain green in the depths of winter and plum is the first to blossom. Plum blossoms are emblematic of courage, perseverance and purity, bursting forth at the end of winter. They look especially nice arranged with the pine and bamboo, as Chinese artists have depicted for centuries.
The Chinese have recently considered making both the plum blossom and the peony China’s national flowers with the slogan, “One Country -Two Flowers.”
Lucky bamboo (dracaena sanderiana) is one of my favorite plants, considered very ‘feng shui’ in homes. Curly bamboo can be purchased at many nurseries and florist in Columbia. Towers of stacked bamboo canes are also popular with the Chinese and bring good luck to new businesses.
Pussy willows are a symbol of longevity and make beautiful decorations, especially by the vaseful. The fluffy white blossoms are thought to resemble silk. The young jade-colored shoots represent the coming of prosperity. Red packets are often hung from an arrangement of pussy willow branches.
Dwarf citrus trees – especially loquat, orange and kumquat – are also highly favored. Small blossoming trees are displayed in homes during the New Year’s celebration, much like Christmas trees. Oranges and tangerines are symbols of wealth and good luck. Gifts of tangerines with the leaves intact assure that one’s relationship with the recipient remains strong. For newlyweds, this represents the branching of the couple into a family with many children.
The word loquat sounds like Chinese words for gold and luck. The green leaves symbolize wealth. The Cantonese word for kumquat is a pun for ‘gold’ and ‘good fortune.’ Candied kumquats are a must on the New Year’s table. The Chinese like to display a pair of pomelo in the household decorations. They symbolically imply that the home will be furnished with everything it needs in the coming year.
Dwarf citrus are easy to grow at home and forgiving plants. My own Calamondin orange, a kumquat hybrid, is happily esconsed in a sunny kitchen window, the branches drooping with golden fruit filled with tart juice -good used like lemon juice. The fruit is also good candied. My lime tree is covered with white blossoms and plump green fruit.
All these plants ask for is bright light, warmth and a humid environment. Place them in a sunny window with a western or southern sun exposure. Water when the soil feels dry about an inch below the surface. Don’t overwater. The soil should be able to drain well.
Sand in the potting mix helps drainage. Place a plant saucer with large pebbles under the plant to catch excess water. Fertilize regularly. A slow-release granular fertilizer will provide necessary nitrogen and prevent the leaves from turning yellow. Yellow leaves can also mean overwatering.
My trees are indoor-outdoor plants and spend the warm summer days on my kitchen patio. During this time, the bees and butterflies are busy pollinating them. During the cold months, they live inside.
Check local nurseries for dwarf citrus or online at, http://www.acornsprings.com/ (Acorn Springs Farms in Texas). The company carries several dwarf citrus trees: kiffir lime, calamondin, Nagumi kumquat (Fortunella margarita), Meyer lemon, Mandarin, citron and Rio Red grapefruit. The Kaffir Lime (wild lime) is a favorite, with aromatic, perfumed double leaves that have a unique, striking flavor. It is an essential ingredient in Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian cooking. Meyer lemons is a favorite of chefs, slightly sweeter that the usual supermarket variety.