Three Friends of Winter

  • Post published:01/28/2009
  • Post comments:2 Comments

Since I have just posted about Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year, I thought I would continue with a mention of the Three Friends of Winter, the pine, bamboo and plum blossoms. These plants symbolize survival under adverse conditions.

The pine is considered the chief of trees. Its trunk is straight and powerful (although I have to say that the pine that shows up commonly in Chinese art is less than tall and straight) like an upright man of strength and virtue. At the same time a pine’s twisted limbs symbolize the ethical and principled man buffeted by the winds of adversity

Although the pine is revered for its strength, the nearly evergreen bamboo with its hollow stalk is symbolic of tolerance and open-mindedness – and flexibility. Sometimes survival of those with integrity depends on their ability to yield without breaking. Hence the stories of nobles who retire to their mountain hermitages to tend their chrysanthemums – at least until a change of climate at the imperial court . As an element in the Chinese garden the bamboo is welcomed for the rustling music it makes in the breezes of every season.

The plum is the first to bloom in very early spring. Though its blossoms are not large or particularly noticeable, its fragrance wafting on the cold air cannot be ignored. The fragile and exquisite blossom is a metaphor for inner beauty and humility in adversity. It can be hardy in Beijing in a protected location – which means it would also need protection here in Western Massachusetts.

In China we found that many plants were grown and used as much for their symbolism as for their beauty. For example, the chrysanthemum, a native of China is a symbol of the courage it takes to lead a life unconstrained by demands of convention, of gossip and palace intrigues. Hence those nobles leaving court for their hermitages and chrysanthemum gardens. But those are flowers and stories for another season.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Wendy

    How very interesting! I’d like to learn more about the Chinese flower symbolism.

  2. Pat Leuchtman

    Wendy, In China the flowers are more appreciated for their symbolism than simply elements in the garden – where in fact it is water and stone that are more essential.

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