Peonies in the heart of Beijing

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Peonies, which are highly valued in China, are currently at the height of their season at Beijing's Jingshan Park. []

Jingshan Park is a place that is difficult to miss. It covers more than 200,000 square meters of ground just outside the north gate of the Forbidden City, including the massive, manmade hill topped with the Pavilion of Everlasting Spring, which offers the best views of Beijing. Adding to the traditional Chinese atmosphere is the park's extensive crop of peonies, which are currently in full bloom.

Jingshan Park is home to more than 2,000 stunning peony plants from 300 varieties. Although China's relationship with peonies dates back more than 7,000 years, the park did not concentrate resources on a peony garden until the 1950s. Plants were brought in from the ancient capital of Luoyang, which is famous for its peonies, as well as Shandong and Shaanxi provinces.

Jingshan Park's peonies are cultivated to grow taller and have larger blossoms, so they stand out from their ancestors in central China. Some blooms have been measured as having a diameter of 29 centimeters.

Peonies have been highly valued in China because of their large blossoms and noble appearance.

Jingshan Park is a fitting place for a spring peony festival, as the entire venue becomes an ode to traditional culture. Jingshan's hill was created by the earth that workers dug from the ground surrounding the Forbidden City to make a moat. The 45.7-meter hill made of surplus soil also serves to protect the Forbidden City from fierce northern winds. The hill has five peaks, each topped with a pavilion to house a god.

"There are Gods in each pavilion to look at each of the five directions -- east, west, south, north, and middle," said Zhang Fuqiang, Director of Jingshan Park's Cultural Research Department.

The center peak houses the largest Buddha who overlooks the Forbidden City. The vistas at the Pavilion of Everlasting Spring are some of the best in Beijing, granting views as far as the Second Ring Road and beyond in all directions.

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