Golden Azaleas of China- By Constance Frederica Gordon Cumming

Golden Azaleas of China- By Constance Frederica Gordon Cumming

In delicious and wonderful silence we glided up the canal, the boat being sometimes pulled and sometimes towed by our excellent pig-tailed crew. All the land on either side is under cultivation (save, indeed, where hillocks, apparently scattered quite at random, mark the site of graves, and these are legion). The rice-fields are now o...f a lovely green, as are also the fields of wheat and barley. Tall sugar-cane and maize and various other crops vary the scene, and now and again a heavenly fragrance tells us that we are passing a field of blossoming beans. It is only fair that we should sometimes be thus rejoiced, for our poor noses are often severely afflicted in China, where the dreadful sewerage of the cities is so openly transferred to the agricultural districts!

Ending our voyage by clear moonlight, we anchored at Sioh Bah, at the foot of the hills, and there slept on board, awakening this morning at earliest dawn to greet as lovely a May-day as heart could desire—a morning made musical by the warbling of innumerable birds. True to traditions of home, we washed our faces in the May dew which lay so abundantly on fields of the richest pink clover, and banks of golden buttercups and celandine. It was a bright clear morning, and the air crisp and exhilarating.

After an early breakfast we secured coolies to carry the bamboo arm-chairs which we had brought with us, and started on the fivemile ascent to this monastery, by a most lovely path winding up and down among hills all clothed in the freshest green, and through a paradise of most heavenly flowers. In many places the path is overshadowed by tall tallow-trees—not an attractive name, I confess, but a very ornamental tree, loaded with blossom. Its seeds, when crushed and boiled, yield the vegetable tallow of which are made most of the candles which are burnt before idol shrines in the temples. To obtain the requisite hardness, it is mixed with a small quantity of pure white wax, which is deposited by legions of minute insects on the branches of a stunted tree of the sumach family,1 which is said to be peculiar to certain districts in the great western province of Szu-chuan.

Other trees are festooned by richest clusters of large white dogroses and lilac wistaria. Here and there we come to thickets of most gorgeous golden azaleas, scenting the whole air with their delicious perfume. I never saw such glorious azaleas as these, except under most careful cultivation; these are quite different from the Californian azalea, which so enchanted me last spring. The fragrance of these is perhaps scarcely so ethereal, but theblossom is very much larger, producing a glorious mass of colour. On many heads I have counted from forty to fifty large blossoms, forming clusters ranging from eight to fifteen inches in circumference.