'Peony Prince' brings love of flower to Seattle

By Linda Deng In Seattle | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-01-06 11:48

'Peony Prince' brings love of flower to Seattle

George Jiang, working with some of the peony roots he has brought from China, hopes to share his enthusiasm for a flower that in China represents the entire country. Linda Deng / China Daily

George Jiang, the co-founder of the American Peony Art and Culture Association, is also known as the "Peony Prince" in the Greater Seattle area.

"I loved the Emerald City at first sight. When I saw the annual blooming cherry and tulip blossoms, I started to think, why not bring peonies to this city, to make it even more beautiful," Jiang said.

In 2009, Jiang and his family moved from China to Seattle, when his mission of spreading the culture of peonies in the US started.

Jiang is a businessman and a skilled artist from Luoyang, Central China's Henan province, home of the largest peony festival in China. Jiang's father, Jiang He, was China's top-ranked peony painter. At the age of 4, George Jiang began to learn calligraphy and Chinese painting.

In May 2014, the Seattle Chinese Garden hosted the second Seattle-Luoyang Peony Festival. Jiang was painting peonies during the festival in the display garden, where 400 peony plants, a gift from Luoyang, were on display, drawing hundreds of people to the garden in south Seattle.

The idea of the festival emerged from the passion for peonies of Jiang; Kirk Chia, founder of the American Peony Art and Cultural Association; and Washington China Center President Scott Heinlein. The festival also was supported by Jon Geiger and Jim Dawson, members of the Seattle Chinese Garden's board.

In 2012, Jiang donated 230 peony roots to the garden; a year before the festival, Jiang helped arrange the first 230 plants to be shipped from Luoyang.

In April 2013, an inaugural delegation led by Seattle's Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith, visited China's peony capital, Luoyang. Vice-Mayor Wang Jinglin of Luoyang welcomed the delegation.

Then both cites established an agreement to support a "Seattle Luoyang Peony Festival" through the collaboration of both then-mayor Michael McGinn of Seattle and the mayor of Luoyang.

Both sides believed that establishing strong relationships for the festival will open channels for trade and development between the two cities.

A month later, in the Seattle Chinese Garden, the festival debuted, and the first blossoms on the peony plants donated by Luoyang were featured.

By winter 2013, with the help of volunteers and peony lovers and both cities, the garden organized a total of 400 peony roots, and Jiang was excited to start planting.

"In China, the (peony) flower represents the whole country," Jiang said. "It symbolizes wealth and abundance and is very loved and auspicious in China. Peonies are also very useful, being used in horticulture but also for medicine, cosmetics, art and even cooking oil.

"To me, the peony is also a flower of friendship. I hope it will help build a long- lasting friendship between China and the United States," he said.

In recent years, Jiang has divided his time between Luoyang and Seattle, to help build a bridge between the peony lovers in two cities and try to promote better cultural communication.

He volunteered to give lectures about peony history and culture, show peony painting skills and donate his paintings to the community and to educational and culture exchange events. He also travels to other major cities on both US coasts to promote peony culture.

'Peony Prince' brings love of flower to Seattle

Now Jiang is working on a project to give 56 varieties of fine peonies to the United Nations as a gift in April. According to Jiang, an exhibition of peonies will also open at the UN.

After four years of communication and efforts, all the roots stocks from Luoyang arrived in Seattle in November. Jiang is now taking care of those plants in his back yard to make sure they will bloom in spring.

"Managing the secure shipment itself is one of the hardest parts - with all the USDA permits and processes," Jiang said. "But it's worth the efforts we have made. These flowers will be a good gift - symbolizing friendship and peace."

Luoyang has a long history of planting peonies. Peony-growing began to prevail in the region in the ancient Sui Dynasty more than 1,000 years ago. In the Tang Dynasty, many famous gardens for peonies were built, and peonies were planted on a massive scale. Luoyang became the country's peony cultivation and trade center in the Song Dynasty.

Luoyang peonies are internationally famous. Luoyang peony is well-known for its big flowers and many varieties. Each year, in late spring when the peonies are in full bloom, thousands of visitors swarm the city to enjoy the stunningly beautiful flowers. The international Peony Festival held in Seattle annually adds even more fame for Luoyang's peonies.

Like Luoyang, Seattle's unique climate is particularly suitable to peony-growing, according to Jiang.

"In Luoyang, the peony flower with a diameter of 23-25 centimeters becomes a courtesan, but in the Seattle area, peony flowers can grow to be as big as a diameter of 29 to 31 centimeters," Jiang said.

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