A Few Plum Blossoms in a Temple Garden

While both the Washington Tidal Basin and Tokyo will limit opportunities for hanami (花見, or ‘flower-viewing’) this year, cherry and plum blossoms still entice. At the Linh Son Buddhist Temple in nearby Santa Fe, Texas, the same plum trees that recently endured our unexpected freeze are coming into bloom. Whether they achieve the glory of past years remains to be seen, but in his Essays in Idleness, Yoshida Kenko (1283-1350) offers this salutary perspective:

Are we to look at cherry blossoms only in full bloom, the moon only when it is cloudless? To long for the moon while looking on the rain, to lower the blinds and be unaware of the passing of spring—these are even more deeply moving. Branches about to blossom or gardens strewn with faded flowers are worthier of our admiration.

Somewhat earlier, the Northern Song dynasty poet Lin Bu (967-1028) composed “Shan Yuan Xiao Mei,”  or “Little Plum Blossoms in a Mountain Garden.” After withdrawing from government service to live in solitude by the West Lake in Hangzhou, the poet embraced a plum tree as his spouse and a crane as his child. While I enjoy both plum blossoms and cranes, I’m not likely to follow his lead in that respect, but the words of his poem do suit the early buds and flowers I found at Lin Sohn.

Among withered flowers plum trees brightly bloom
Dominating garden with beauty unsurpassed

In clear and shallow water sparse branches loom
Floating in moonlit air with delicate fragrance
Eager are the winter birds who come to look
Spring butterflies they must equally enchant

To enjoy such beauty writing these few lines I have luck
Want of wine and song these blooms supplant


Comments always are welcome. Click any image for greater detail.

59 thoughts on “A Few Plum Blossoms in a Temple Garden

    1. Thank you, Derrick. The man who was clearing freeze-damaged foliage didn’t speak much English, and I speak no Vietnamese, but we both admired the flowers.

  1. You got some good close-up floral portraits.

    The sound that’s written ñ in Spanish is common to other Romance languages, but most write it differently. Italian goes with gli, French with gn, and Portuguese with nh. When Portuguese explorers reached Vietnam in the 1500s, they heard that sound in the local language and transcribed it the same way they did in Portuguese, nh. That’s why you see Vietnamese words and names spelled with nh. When I searched for the Linh Son Buddhist Temple in Santa Fe, I was surprised to learn there’s a Chua Linh-Son Buddhist Temple less than three miles from home in Austin. Sure enough, the nh in the name is a giveaway that “the community is predominantly Vietnamese.”

    1. I tend not to go out when it’s raining, but this week the rain presented an opportunity to check out the temple grounds and see if anything was blooming. The weather cooperated; it stopped raining, leaving a nice, diffuse light that suited the delicately colored blooms.

      The Chua Linh-Son Temple seems considerably larger and more ornate than the one in Santa Fe, but I’m sure the community it serves is larger, too. That’s quite an interesting tale about the travels of the ‘nh’ transcription. I see that combination quite often; a local restaurant called Pho Banh Mi comes to mind. Now, I need to find someone to explain the iconography of the statues and sculptures in the temple garden.

      1. I certainly didn’t notice. I did mention your interesting fact about the ‘nh’ combination to a friend whose family speaks Vietnamese. She didn’t know about the Portuguese connection, but she did mention that when used at the end of a word, it has the sound of English ‘n.’ At the start of a word, it does have the ñ sound associated with Spanish.

    1. The redbuds are blooming now, and I’ve heard rumors of other trees breaking forth. In fact, I even heard someone mention seeing some dogwood flowers in east Texas. The time for looking is here.

  2. Beautiful, beautiful post, both words and images. I was so moved by the quotations, and one of the things that really inspires me about the Japanese culture is how they believe that the life force flows in everything. I know fantasy isn’t your thing, but the great animator Hayao Miyazaki is a master who weaves this notion of animism into all things. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayao_Miyazaki

    1. That was an interesting article. I did take a bit of a dive into anime this winter: specifically, Bleach, a television series based on Tite Kubo’s manga of the same name and directed by Noriyuki Abe. An animation of the character Orihime Inoue spinning a leek became a world-wide meme. How I bumped into it is a bit of a story that began with an Orthodox blogger in Arizona — as soon as I can figure out how to make the whole thing understandable, I’m going to post about it.

  3. Our cherry blossom season isn’t until mid-May and the best cherry orchards are around Old Mission, on a peninsula on Lake Michigan. They can handle more freezing temperatures than one would think for such delicate flowers. Although grapes for wine are slowly taking over the farms up there. Love your photographs. They bring back memories of the days when we’d go up for the Cherry Blossom Festival.

    1. American Spoon just had their annual free-shipping sale, so I have some of those Michigan cherries sitting in my pantry now. I grew up with apple and cherry trees at home in Iowa, and watching the transformation from blossom to fruit entranced me. I used to follow a blogger from right across the water, in Torch Lake, so I’ve seen a few photos of the area. If I could make only one more ‘big’ trip, I might well choose the UP rather than the Grand Canyon or the Everglades.

  4. I was worried about the blooms and buds that might have come out prior to the ice storm. I’m so glad they are going to bloom in their full glory. Loved this post, Linda, in every single way. Thanks for this.

    1. I’m still worried about some trees, like the mountain laurel. Friends who have them aren’t at all sanguine about their chances for recovery; they were too far along before the ice hit. These plum trees were damaged, too, but damaged isn’t destroyed, and if the trees are willing to provide a few perfect blooms this year, we can enjoy those, and look forward to next year. (But you can bet I’m going to check on those trees regularly, just in case!)

    1. I’m glad I visited just after the rain. I think strong sunlight would have washed out the colors, and perhaps made the raindrops less visible. There were native wildflowers springing up everywhere, but I’m hoping that their wisteria managed to survive. They have white ones that have been gorgeous in the past.

    1. Thanks, Vicki. I’m glad that I found your new blog, too. I’ve tried clicking on your name in the past, but when it didn’t link to your site, I thought you’d gone on holiday!

  5. What a lovely find and exquisite photos! Thanks for sharing, Linda. Linh Son roughly means Soul Mountain. Not sure if it means a soul as immovable as a mountain or the mountain where souls ascend.

    1. I did a little more reading, and it seems that Linh Son (“sacred mountain”) refers to a mountain in India called Ky Xa Quat or Linh Tuu Son, where Buddha used to give lessons and meet his disciples. In the process of learning that, I found explanations for some of the symbols I found around the garden, and a suggestion that there are different traditions in Buddhism. It’s all very interesting.

  6. What a beautiful set of pictures – they’re such delicate flowers! Our blossom doesn’t appear until April, so you’re a few weeks ahead of us.

    1. We’re ahead, but we’re playing catch-up, too. The freeze nipped some plants in the bud, so to speak. On the other hand, I’ve read articles about our state’s peach crop that are positively enthusiastic. They were a little short of the freeze hours they needed, so the ice and snow took care of that. Wildflowers like bluebonnets may be somewhat later, too — but they escaped having their blooms frozen. It will be fun to see how things work out.

  7. Wonderful blossom photos. I’m surprised to see blooms this soon after the deep freeze, but I was driving between Camp Verde and Center point yesterday and saw similar blooms up here. I guess we thought it was a lot colder than the trees thought it was.

    Steve’s comments about temple names sent me checking on our local Buddhist congregation. Believe it or not, there’s a Buddhist temple in Pipe Creek, Wat Sangabucha. As best as I can determine, “Wat” identifies it as having Cambodian, Thai, or Lao heritage. Wat is apparently a Thai word meaning enclosure.

    1. I was surprised to find that the peach growers in your area weren’t all that unhappy with the freeze. One grower in Fredericksburg said they need about 700 freeze hours for a really good crop, and they only had about 600 prior to the freeze. Needless to say, they got what they needed.

      How are your mountain laurels doing? The staff at Lost Maples said theirs haven’t begun blooming (like most wildflowers) but the plants themselves seem to be fine.

      Your ‘wat’ brought to mind Angkor Wat. When I looked that up, I found that ‘Wat is the Khmer word for “temple grounds.’

      1. Our mountain laurels, particularly a few younger, less established ones, sustained some damage but it looks like they’ll pull through. It’ll be interesting to see if they bloom this year. Plants in pots have surprised me the most. The inland sea oats are sprouting now, our comfrey stayed green throughout the freeze, and the lantana and anisacanthus seem to be fine.

  8. True that many gardeners are always thinking about how good things will look next week or how good they looked last week. This diminishes the pleasure we take in the garden and in life generally.

    1. I’ve never thought about that in terms of gardening, but it makes sense. This time of year, I experience a variation on the theme, called “Where are they blooming now?” As rumors circulate — bluebonnets here, orchids there, something-elses everywhere — deciding where to go can lead to paralysis. I have to keep reminding myself of a truth I sometimes forget: in five years or so of rambling around, I never have come home without having seen a natural wonder of some sort. Not once.

  9. We are hardly into Autumn and my Irises are popping up together with the Grape hyacinths. Perhaps it is the rain. ‘The rain my drink’ , I seem to remember reading.
    There are weather warnings for 300mm of rain over the next 24 hrs.!
    My garden could not look greener. Lovely budding plum buds and flowers.

    1. It sounds as though everything is coming up roses there — or at least irises and grape hyacinth. Your autumn sounds like a second spring — what could be better? I did notice your comment in your recent post about that torrential rainfall that’s coming. Stay safe until that passes, and then get out and enjoy!

    1. I was so pleased to find a few blooms at the Temple. Their gardens took quite a hit, but there’s been quite a bit of work done already, clearing away dead and damaged plants. As quickly as things are beginning to leaf out, another couple of weeks should tell the tale of what’s survived. I’ve got my fingers crossed for the white wisteria.

  10. A little piece of bone china in the delicate hue of those blossom petals would be exquisite — a sake cup or teacup, or a little bowl with dots of golden peach in its depths like the footprints of the stamen. Those delicious pinks and peaches on porcelain so thin that light would glow through it.

    1. I agree. Although I’ve always been interested in American pottery, porcelain is a different thing, and these petals and stamens would make a fabulous decoration.

    1. Thanks, Ellen. I’m always glad when I please your artist’s eye. The whole experience was a salutary reminder that ‘perfect’ conditions aren’t necessary for memorable photos.

    1. Flowers as small and delicate as these need a little space to really ‘bloom,’ so I tried to find ways to isolate them and give them the chance. I thought the photos worked well, and I’m sure that the gloomy skies and diffused light helped out. I certainly enjoyed finding and photographing them.

  11. You’ve a fine pairing of words and pictures here, Linda. Of course we should appreciate all the stages of flowering and I prefer flowers to wine. I do hope that not only the plums but all else that you wait upon have survived the blast of winter to allow you to enjoy and share more of their beauty. I love that last image with the dewy petals and stamens.

    1. That last image is my favorite. There’s something about that edge-on view that’s almost always appealing.

      As for surviving the cold, it seems clear that things may have slowed a bit, especially on the prairies, but we’re clicking along. The bald cypress trees have leafed out, and wisteria is blooming everywhere. Many traditional favorites are sending out scouts to see if it’s safe to come out, and I suspect the rest will follow relatively soon — especially if the pollen count is any indication. The pecan trees haven’t leafed out, though. Folk wisdom says that once they do, winter is well gone.

  12. I have fond personal memories of amazing array of blossoms in both the DC tidal basin and Japan in spring, and I thank you for reviving the. as we slide gently into autumn here.

    1. How wonderful that you’ve been able to see the flowering trees in both locations! I love that there’s a word — hanami — for flower-viewing. Around here, we just talk about going to see the bluebonnets. It’s as much a ritual as going to see the cherry blossoms, but having a special word for it would be better.

  13. I’m always partial to nice flower pics. Spring isn’t springing very fast up this way, we don’t have much beyond crocus and daffodils. Shouldn’t be long though…

    1. On the other hand, you have crocus and daffodils: two flowers that we either lack or are short on around here. There are consolations, obviously. It’s certainly nice to see you pop up. I’ve not yet read your post, but I’m looking forward to it.

    1. Aren’t they beautiful? Spring is a delicate season, and its flowers are so very much a “now you see them, now you don’t” gift. It’s funny — we wait all winter for spring, but it’s so easy to miss it. At least I have this bit to save!

      1. Spring has come so quickly this year, we will be having Cherry blossom soon, if it keeps on at this rate (well over a month ahead of schedule; this feels like mid-April and I fear for a droughty summer:/)

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