Foreign volunteer 'passionate about plants'

Australian Peter Feilen, known as an ambassador in horticulture, enjoys his "very important work" at the garden in Songjiang District.
Foreign volunteer 'passionate about plants'
Ti Gong

Peter Feilen volunteers at Chenshan Botanic Garden in Songjiang District.

Australian Peter Feilen is known as an ambassador of horticulture and is the first foreign volunteer at Chenshan Botanic Garden in Songjiang District where he helps in gardening-related work because he is “passionate about plants.”

At the botanic garden, Feilen was involved in many projects including green waste recycling. He processed green waste materials into compounds that can be used in the gardens and improve the soil. He helped the desert plant pavilion select Australian plants and shared knowledge on the collection of Mount Kenya plants, the pruning of trees, shrubs and vines, and taught horticulture in English at gardening workshops. 

He teaches classes on landscape design and edited the English version of the educational signs and guide books. He also helped develop guided tours in English.

“I am passionate about plants, passionate about science and passionate about making this world a better place,” said Feilen.

Feilen worked one or two days each week at the garden from 9am to 4pm. He spends one and a half hours traveling from Gubei in Changning District where he lives to Chenshan. Feilen accompanied his wife, who was on a three-year work contract, to Shanghai in 2015. Experienced in horticulture and boasting a master’s degree in environmental management and 10 years of experience in the field, he worked at the National Botanic Garden in Canberra which has more than 9,000 varieties of Australian plants before he came to Shanghai. Prior to that, he received training at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London, one of the most prestigious botanic gardens in the world, for three years. He received a diploma of horticulture there.

“I decided to use my experience and knowledge in volunteering, and Chenshan was the first place I wanted to go,” said Feilen. “I thought it would be a very valuable and interesting experience especially because the botanic garden is so young and is full of potential.

“I really enjoy my work, and it’s very important work. I tell people about plants, about nature and the importance to protect nature for clean air and clean water.”

Feilen also won the hearts of his colleagues. He is called “old P” cordially by Chinese colleagues of the horticulture department, who shared their local specialties with him.

He tasted chicken feet and drank sweet scented osmanthus rice wine for the first time in his life. He learnt Shanghai dialect from them.

“They are like my brothers and sisters who share a lot with me, like Chinese culture, food, and the Chinese theory about garden design,” he said.

His Chinese colleagues like him.

“It was such a pleasure to get to know Peter from work, and he impressed me with his expertise, his enthusiasm on plants, and his openness on sharing as a botanical scientist,” said Zhang Yinghui who works at the horticulture department of the garden. “I have learned a lot from him.”

In Shanghai, Feilen lives like a local.

He rides shared bikes, and shops on Taobao. He travels a lot and has been to Beijing six times, as well as Harbin, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Xi’an, Xiamen and Yunnan Province, just to name some.

Because his wife’s contract in Shanghai has ended, Feilen had to stop his volunteer work recently. He received a volunteer certificate from the garden and will work as a horticulturist at the Australian Rockery Garden of the National Botanic Garden in Canberra. His work will include gardening, guided tours, education and garden design.

Feilen said he will keep in contact with Chenshan Botanic Garden.

“I hope it will become one of the top 10 botanic gardens in the world one day, and I think they can achieve it,” he said, adding that he will come back one day.

“I am very much looking forward to visiting Chenshan again in the future to see progress through the years,” said Feilen.

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