◎ Lao She
I love flowers and hence have taken to growing them. But, short of time to do research and experiment in flower cultivation, I am no gardener at all. I merely take flower cultivation as a pleasure of life. I really don’t care whether or not the blooms put forth by my flowers are plump and nice-looking. I’ll be delighted as long as they can bloom. In summer, flowers and plants growing in luxuriance in my small courtyard will leave little open space as a playground for the little cats, so they have to sport about in our rooms instead.
I grow many flowers, but none of them are exotic or rare ones. It is difficult to grow a precious flower species. And I feel bad to see a good flower dying of illness. I don’t want often to shed tears over that. But Beijing’s climate is more or less unfit for the growing of flowers. Freezing in winter, windy in spring, and either too dry or too often visited by rainstorms in summer. While autumn is the best of all, it is often plagued by a sudden frost. In a climate like this, it is far beyond my capacity to grow precious flowers of southern breed. Therefore, I only grow flowers and plants that are hardy and enjoy a high survival rate.
Although such flowers are able to weather through by themselves, I, however, never ignore them or abandon them to their own fate, for otherwise most of them will probably end up dead. I have to care for them every day as if they were my close friends. Thus, in the course of time, I’ve somehow got the hang of flower cultivation. Some flowers which are accustomed to growing in the shade should not be too much exposed to the sun. Those which prefer dryness should not be watered too often. It gives me much pleasure to know the right way of handling them. How interesting it is to be able to keep my flowers and plants alive and watch them thrive and bloom year in year out! It is no exaggeration to say that there is much knowledge involved in this! And the more knowledge one acquires, the better it is of course.
As I have some trouble with my leg, I can’t move around easily, nor can I sit too long. I don’t know if the flowers under my care are grateful to me or not. However, I wish for my part to acknowledge my thanks to them. I often leave off sedentary work after writing a few dozen words and go to the courtyard to take a look at the flowers, watering them and moving about the potted ones. Then I’ll return to my room to write a bit more. I’ll go through the same back-and-forth process again and again, thus combining mental with manual labour. This is a better way to keep me fit in mind and body than taking medicine. In case of a violent storm or a sudden change of weather, however, the whole family will have to turn out to salvage the flowers and plants. Everybody will then feel keyed up. By the time when we have managed to move the several hundred potted flowers to the rooms in a hurry, we will be dog-tired and wet with perspiration. The next day, when the weather is fine, we will have another round of being dog-tired and wet with perspiration in taking all the flowers out to the courtyard again. How interesting it is! Isn’t it true that without doing manual labour, we couldn’t even keep a single flower alive?
It filled the whole family with pride whenever the milkman exclaims on entering our gate, “What a sweet smell!” When the night-blooming cereuses are about to be in flower, we will invite some friends to visit us in the evening to feast their eyes on them — in an atmosphere smacking of nocturnal merry-making under candle lights. When the cereuses have branched out, we will pick some of the flowers and give them as a present to our friends. We are of course especially happy to see them take away our fruits of labour.
Of course, there is a time to feel sad too. Last summer, a rainstorm hit us when 300 chrysanthemum seedlings in the courtyard were about to be transplanted to pots. Suddenly, the wall of our neighbour collapsed and crushed more than 100 seedlings of 30 varieties. The whole family were sad-faced for quite a few days!
Joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, flowers and fruit, fragrance and colour, manual labour and increased knowledge — all these make up the charm of flower cultivation.