Zhongdian – Tuesday 10 November 2009

The flowers on the hills are now all over, save a few withered Gentians, mostly now gone to seed, a dandelion or two and a small aster-like member of the Compositae family with purple petals and yellow centre.

I have painted most of the gentians I have found, and a small, creeping plant which forms wide-spread mats with purple bell-shaped flowers which I thought might be a gentian – until observed more closely: Cyananthus microhombeus.

Cyananthus microhombeus 07841Cyananthus microhombeus

There was just one bud and two flowers left, but enough to make a small painting. Sadly I had missed the main flowering season but from the seed heads in evidence they must make an extraordinary sight. In fact the whole hillside behind the Old Town where I have been sourcing plant material must look very much like the traditional wild-flower meadows of yesteryear in England.

Walking the land takes on a different sound in Autumn, with crisp crunching underfoot – most of the leaves have blown off the birch (Betula platyphylla or utilis), the larch is clinging on, glowing golden against the firs. Patches of dark green dot the hills, mostly heavily browsed  Quercus aquifoliodes and Ilex bioritsensis. The air is thin and hot with clear, azure skies, but the nights are bitter, a heavy white frost lingering in the shade well into the morning.

The alpine meadows are now turning brown with little vegetation of any nutritional value remaining; they have been extremely over-grazed by roaming cattle – most recently observed eating cardboard from the ubiquitous rubbish tip behind the temple. The Chinese concept of waste management, “out of sight and out of mind”, very much in evidence.

My time in Zhongdian is drawing swiftly to a close and I prepare to return to Dali at the end of this week, then consider if I will venture into southern Yunnan and the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve and Botanical Gardens, or head straight over towards the Vietnamese border.

Southern Yunnan has tropical vegetation – and it would be great to be painting something slightly larger than 5cm high! Of course the paper and paint will behave very differently in the high humidity, so new challenges await. But I have sufficient water-colour paper to be able to experiment. A mixed blessing perhaps – my thoughts of having built up a body of work of paintings of Henryi plants having faded well before the brilliant Gentians caught my eye.

I’ve taken photos of some of my paintings, which won’t do them any favours (they’re propped up outside N’s Cafe, under my sun-umbrella to diffuse direct light, but subject to colour cast from all sorts of sources!) Nevermind,  it’s a record of some sort…

Gentiana haynaldii 07811Gentiana haynaldii

Gentiana veitchiorum 0779Gentiana veitchiorum

Gentiana yunnanensis 0776Gentiana yunnanensis

Halenia elliptica 07701Halenia elliptica