A pretty day begs to be enjoyed outdoors, and the Beijing Botanical Garden offers pleasant strolls through natural beauty and many places to sit down and enjoy it.
Right now it's best to arrive early (gates open at 7 am) and walk the grounds before it gets hot. Start at the southeast gate: Winding pathways take you along lakes and waterways as you explore the rose garden, the penjing garden and the Cao Xueqin memorial hall, which re-creates the West Hill scenery that inspired his novel A Dream of Red Mansions.
Take time to linger in the garden of penjing. (For Western visitors: "pen" means "pot" and "jing" means landscape. It is named penjing rather than bonsai - although the Japanese adapted and popularized these miniature tree sculptures during the centuries that China was a closed society, the technique originated in Shanghai and other southern provinces.) The plants in their ornamental shallow trays are arranged on outdoor walkways, become part of a landscape that also includes the textures of stone and water. Savor the thin, horizontal "cloud" layers of the Yangzhou style and the feathery Jing Tiao trees whose seeds were collected from the nearby Fragrant Hills.
By now you'll be ready for some flowers, so head for the nearby conservatory (see below), a series of gardens under glass that look great year-round. "The lotus collection, massed in giant kettles outside on the entry plaza, is a highlight of the summer garden," says the garden's vice director Zhao Shiwei.
Strolling through the remaining two-thirds of the garden will eventually take you to the Bamboo Garden - a terrific collection - and the Wofu Temple or Temple of Reclining Buddha.
Built in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), it features a 54-ton bronze statue of Sakyamuni cast with the help of 7,000 workers during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). That's a look-but-don't-touch, don't-take-pictures encounter, but well worth a visit.