"Dwarf Trees" from Dr. Clarke Abel's Book

          Dr. Clarke Abel (1780-1826) was Chief Medical Officer and Naturalist to the Embassy of Lord Amherst to the Court of Peking, and in Canton 1816-17.  This was Britain's second attempt at establishing relations with the emperor of China.   After detailed observation and collection of assorted cultivated and wild plants on the Embassy's way to and back from the capital, in January 1817 Abel visited the famous nursery gardens at Fa tee (Fa ti).  These were situated on the southern bank of the river, about three miles from Canton.  Embassy quarters were in the village of Ho nan on the opposite side of the river to the British Factory.  Abel was appointed to the embassy on the suggestion of Sir Joseph Banks.  Returning from China in 1818, Abel was subsequently appointed Physician to Lord Amherst in India, where the doctor later died.

      Narrative of a Journey in the Interior of China and of a Voyage to and from that Country, in 1816 and 1817 (1818):

       "The Lycopodium, which [Abel] had seen growing in dry places in the Canton Province, and which might perhaps be best compared to a fir tree in miniature, he found cultivated in the Fa ti gardens, but in pots, kept in a tub filled with water."
       "The dwarf plants seen in the quarters were Elms twisted into grotesque shapes.  One of the principal methods of checking the growth and giving them the appearance of age, consists in taking up a young plant and putting it into a pot too small to allow the spreading of its roots.  Afterwards they wound the bark in different places." 1



1      Bretschneider, Emil  History of European Botanical Discoveries in China (Leipzig: Zentral-Antiquariat; 1981, reprint of the original 1898 edition), pp. 225, 234, and 235-236, which state that on the 17th of February, the Embassy's ship struck a coral reef in the Gaspar (Banca) Straights and became a total wreck, but all the people were saved.  All of Abel's original collections went down with the ship.  He then procured a small collection of Chinese plants while at Batavia in the east Indies, and his later written identifications came from specimens courtesy of a benefactor to whom Abel also gave the small collection.  And the Embassy, upon reaching St. Helena on June 27, is recorded as having had an interview with Napoleon Bonaparte.
       Per Oliphant ( Narrative of the Earl of Elgin's Mission to China and Japan in the Years 1857, 1858 and 1859  (New York: Augustus M. Kelley, Publishers; 1969.  First edition 1859 by William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh & London), Vol. I, pp. 180-181), in Feb. 1858, "We had now spent two months in the Canton River, and had exhausted the attractions of its banks and the resources of Canton.  We had visited the Fatee Gardens, situated in a creek crowded with the boats which had taken refuge there on our occupation [of Canton].  Here box-trees were cut in the shapes of animals or dragons; young bamboos were fantastically twisted; gaudy and sweet-scented flowers bloomed in rows of pots; quaint little bridges led over pools, the water of which was hidden by broad-leaved languid lilies; and grotesque pavilions surmounted rocky islets.  All Chinese gardens partake of much the same character."
       A dozen years earlier Robert Fortune had been to the Fa-tee Gardens during his "undercover" visit into China.   Oliphant (Vol. I, pp. 206-207)  notes "I observe that Mr. Fortune has added as little to our previous limited knowledge of Soo-chow as I have, but he is less excusable [than we who are openly here to enforce a British-Chinese treaty with gunboats], as he seems to have resided there for some time in the disguise of a Chinaman."

       Per "The Fa Tee Nurseries of South China" by Hazel Le Rougetel ( Garden History: the Journal of the Garden History Society; London; Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 70-73), pg. 73, "During the visit to China in 1981 it was quite by chance, when visiting a Horticultural Commune in this area just outside Canton, they learned that one of the Brigades works in a nursery which has existed for two hundred years and so hastened to see it.  The  inscription over the gate leading to the small walled garden gives the name of the Brigade as Hwa Di, mandarin for the Cantonese Fa Tee.  There are a few trees around the perimeter and an aged frangipani, then in flower, in the middle, bonsai are ranged along the narow paths and some of the old buildings remain on one side.  Thus it was very much on the lines of the East India Company's garden described by Fortune ; certainly it was contemporary with it and most probably would have been visted by Livingstone and Reeves.  Today's garden historians may well have been following in the footsteps of those three early collectors in China's Flowery Land."
       In 1816, John Reeves introduced Wisteria sinensis to European gardening from nurseries in Canton, China.  The first two plants to be exported, each sent on-board a different ship, arrived in the same month of May.  Reeves was a keen natural historian and knew the Fa Tee Nurseries well, although, writing after his retirement (at which time he was instrumental in sending Robert Fortune to China), he was somewhat critical:

"Of Chinese gardening and gardens I entertain myself a very low idea; it was only by engaging to purchase them that I got Wisteria propagated for sale and I tried in vain to get the gardeners of Fa Te to collect their own wild plants, of which they have so many beautiful ones (and of which I have drawings) not yet brought to England; nothing will drive them out of 'old custom'.  They still go on, increasing only such as are requested to keep up the usual monthly supplies of blooming plants to those who hire them."

       Reeves (1774-1856) arrived in China in 1812 as a tea inspector for the Canton Factory of the East India Company, a lucrative position.  Before his departure for China, he had been introduced to Joseph Banks through a relative and had received instructions for collecting curious plants and botanical lore.  In China, Reeves developed broad interests in science, including astronomy, but he devoted the majority of his attention to horticulture and natural history.  Like most of his contemporaries, he practiced science as a gentlemanly pursuit, a respectable hobby rather than a true vocation.  He published a few brief notes in obscure journals, collaborating with the missionary-sinologist Robert Morrison on a paper about Chinese materia medica and a report on a solar eclipse, neither of which received notice from the scientific community in Britain.  He also helped Morrison with the scientific terms in his English-Chinese dictionary.
       John Reeve's success derived less from his learning than from his zeal, social connections, and economic resources.  He purchased large numbers of new finds from the Fa-tee nurseries and sought rarities in the gardens of his Chinese friends, notably Puankequa II and that merchant's brother, "the Squire."  Though most died en route, he shipped thousands of plants to Britain.  He offered help and patronage to collectors sent out by the Horticultural Society of London, securing them access to the gardens of local Chinese merchants and introducing them to Thomas Beale and John Livingstone.  Many of the plants Reeves sent to England were from Beale's garden; as were the exotic birds he brought home with him.
       His most important contributions to natural history were the detailed botanical and zoological drawings that he sent to the Horticultural Society and his other scientific correspondents.
      ( http://www.huntington.org/BotanicalDiv/Timeline.html, 1816;  Le Rougetel, pp. 71, 72; Fan, Fa-ti  British Naturalists in Qing China: Science, Empire, and Cultural Encounter (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press; 2004), pp. 43-45, 174.  The above illustration of the Gardens ("Huadi," spelled differently in the writings of British travelers and residents in China) across the river from Canton is Figure 1 after pg. 90 with the caption: "Vicinities of the Canton Factories.  The Canton Factories were located outside the southwestern corner of the walled city of Canton, on the banks of the Pearl River.  Although foreigners were not allowed to enter the city except on rare occasions, they were in daily contact with the Chinese along the Pearl River and in the neighborhood of the Canton Factories."  No source given.  Per pg. 15, Western traders were confined to a corner of Canton, staying in a row of warehouses, called the Factories, a few hundred yards long.)

       See also Tiffany and Hickok.

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