“People ask about the Cold Mountain way;
yet simple roads cannot reach it.
In summer’s sun, the ice is just melting.
The white mist at sunrise could blind a hidden dragon.
So, how can man or beast arrive there?
. . . If your heart were like a dragon, you’d be here already.”
HAN SHAN, Tang Dynasty (618-907)
In 1991 I began a series of expeditions through China to search for cold-tolerant perennial food crops and rare fruit trees beneficial for North American gardens.
These species would be introduced to US botanical gardens and universities and to the nursery trade through Oregon Exotics Nursery, which had a client base of 30,000 customers in the USA and Europe.
Living in villages from Tibet proper to deep southern Yunnan, I crossed China seven times over a nine-year period. I collected plant material from sparsely populated mountain ranges, and from fertile soils of 800-year-old villages where farmers claimed linage to twenty generations of ancestors. In some cases, I was given access to procure new accessions of germplasm from Chinese agricultural officials and their research facilities. Using my USDA permits and phytosanitary certificates issued in China, a hundred and forty promising species were collected and delivered to agriculture inspectors at US Customs. After a brief quarantine period, Oregon Exotics Nursery would then propagate and deliver these rare beauties to botanical gardens or farmers around the country and into Europe.