The Power of Water

by Michael N. Hofman

What a wonderful opportunity Janet and I have to get the chance to see different parts of the world. It’s even more special when we can view our travels through the lens of our years of working in landscaping. When we see a new place, or even view one we’ve been to before, it’s often through our experiences in designing, installing and maintaining beautiful gardens and in around San Francisco for all these years.

At the end of 2016, we had the chance to join friends and their family on a trip to Taiwan. Honestly, before we went there we knew little about it (except that it’s been a geopolitical hot potato with mainland China for years). We were thinking it might be like other islands we had visited in Asia, with some mountains (and volcanoes) but mainly a more subtle topography. What we certainly didn’t know is how much water and mountains play a part in the landscape. On our first day, we visited a beautiful waterfall, known as the Niagara Falls of Taiwan. It’s in a large park not far from Taipei, so there were plenty of visitors. But for us, seeing so much water in one place (remember we left California before much of the rain) was quite exhilarating! Little did we know what we were in for.

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Taiwan has plenty of water, plenty of waterways and plenty of mountains. In fact, according to Wikipedia, there are 286 peaks over 3,000 meters (9,800 feet)! With all these mountains and mountain ranges, water collects in large rivers, of which we saw quite a few. During the dry season, the water beds seem quite large with plenty of gravel surrounding the meager water flow. These views are quite dramatic and seemingly a bit unbelievable that the wide river beds are necessary. You can see in the photo the relatively small river with the very long bridge crossing it, which was quite common to see: long bridges crossing a river bed, with the seeming potential of a huge water flow! Notice the tall mountain in the background: one of those 286.

We also saw more directly the incredible power of water when visiting Taroko National Park. Construction was underway to maintain the shoreline using all the rocks carried by the water to form gabion walls (certainly is enough raw material to make it happen. We saw many of these walls in our travel: using resources commonly available to hold back the power of the water (and obviously this work only can happen in the dry season). We’ve often thought of using this technique for retaining walls in our own projects, but whereas at home we’d have to move all the rocks and gravel, at this location it’s right there!

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Just up the trail, we observed a small tributary which had forced its way through the mountains starting eons ago, carving through the rock to get to the ocean. This work presented us with a beautiful living painting on the rock face, constantly changing (through over 1000’s of years) and of course bringing enjoyment to those of us who chose to take the hike to see it! The trail ended at a large rock collection, stopping mainly due to rock slides (caused by the water flow again). Coincidentally, we saw work on all the roads, due to slides, water damage and related problems.

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While a small segment of the economy, agriculture seems to take up a large portion of the land. With all the water available, we saw many crops being grown with flood irrigation using long irrigation viaducts. A fun side trip we took was to visit a scallion farm which also included “make your own” green onion pancakes. Great fun for all, including the walk through the (wet) fields to see the scallions growing: not to be missed! (Here’s Janet and our friends checking out the scallions in ankle high mud.)

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We can’t ignore the water impacting Taiwan all around! The China Sea surrounds it and it quite visible. The cliffs to the ocean are beautiful (reminded our friends of Hawaii) and obviously dramatic! So, when you’re in the garden watering a small plant, just remember how huge an impact it has on the other side of the world!

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