A short, quirky floral tour of Taiwan

When I first visited Taiwan five years ago, I had no idea it would be the first Asian country I would come to know – and, after four more trips,  come to love, too. Here are a few floral impressions from my introduction to the country.

Though it was a business trip, as always my antennae were up for anything that even hints of the garden. A few weeks before we arrived, the 2011 International Flora Exposition in Taipei had ended. The pictures above and below are of leftovers from that event, placed outside Taipei train station. These weren’t to be our only exposure to “cute culture” or kawaii, which seems to have arrived in Taiwan from Japan.


But Taiwan isn’t as simple as that copy-catting might suggest. It’s not just an island off the coast of China. It’s a fascinating and complex country. And, as they like to tell you, it’s also shaped like a sweet potato. So there’s a first bit of Taiwanese gardenalia for you.

One of the first gardeny things we saw was in the Taipei airport, when we landed, very, very early in the morning, after 15 hours in the air.

It was this installation by Hung Yi, a native of Taichung (the city where we were headed), variously called “Happy Animal Party” or “Fancy Animal Carnival” – I guess depending on translation. See this PDF for info. Look closely, and you’ll find garden motifs all over his characters.

Gardenalia bit number two: the name of Taipei’s international airport is Taoyuan, meaning “cherry garden.” One of our client’s English translators taught me this. Now, I can recognize the Chinese character for yuan (garden) whenever I see it, along with other useful words like chung (middle – Taichung is in the middle of Taiwan).

The images above pretty much summarize the “land of contrasts” that is Taiwan, in a garden or floral context. From the quirky sculpture in Taipei, to the gorgeous flower arrangement and fabric-inspired window dressing at our hotel in Taichung, to the leading-edge green wall on a department store in the same city.

I have written about Taichung before. And I’ll follow up another time with the way that the Taiwanese manage to squeeze a residential garden into the tiniest, most off-beat spaces.

“Just another shrine,” is how we came to think of the many, many that were as common as 7-11s, all over Taichung. Each one is strangely beautiful, and most include some kind of floral embellishment. You can see the colours and patterns that probably helped inspire Hung Yi’s art.
And more exuberant colour is here, in this larger shrine or temple, a couple of blocks from our hotel. We were awed, but it must be so meh! to the Taiwanese that I can’t even find mention of its name or history on Google. In this corner of it, a tree is hung with colourful amulets (and perhaps wishes?).

Some eyes might find these bright and joyful colours to be garish, but they’re embedded in Taiwanese cultural traditions – like Hakka floral design fabrics, which are making a comeback. I loved these painted paper lanterns, below.

From what I observed on that first trip and since is that vibrancy is part of everyday life in Taiwan. One look at the hyper-coloured signage on almost any business street tells you. Or an evening at Taichung’s Feng Jia Night Market. Even cacti get their night-market act on there.

Taiwan cherry in bloom on the streets of Taichung

Not sure when or if I’ll return to Taiwan for visit number six, but if I do I hope it’s in cherry blossom season. It’s easy to feel that way on the second-last day of November.

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