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Uncle Martin's garden beckons kids

DESERT roses and tropical flowers bloom along cobblestone paths, while sparrows swoop at twilight above the roofs. Hainan Jiaji ducks waddle about the yard and leaves float in a small swift creek that runs through the garden.

Uncle Martin's Vegetable Garden at The Ritz-Carlton, Sanya is an oasis of calm and a place for children to have a green adventure.

"I didn't expect this garden would be such an attraction for our guests," says Uncle Martin Li Zhenzhu, the hotel's director of engineering. "I just built it for fun, since I love gardening."

The 60-year-old Shandong Province native, who has been working in the hotel for almost three years, first started the garden when he wanted an after-work pastime.

He collected driftwood on the beach after storms, carved them and fashioned them into unique chairs and tables. He bought vegetable and flower seeds from the local market and even from Shanghai. Li has lived in Shanghai for more than 40 years.

He raised ducks, hens, guinea pigs and squirrels in the garden; he treated injured sea turtles. He dug a well and dredged a small creek for ducks that he "borrowed" from nearby farmers.

"I promised to take good care of the ducks and they gave us one or two ducklings from each brood," says Uncle Martin.

He grows dozens of vegetables and fruit, including bananas, papaya, pineapple, pomelo, sugar cane and many others.

It's a paradise for children where they can learn about tropical plants, pick fruits and vegetables, meet baby chicks, rabbits and sea turtles.

Uncle Martin is quite famous and draws stares from kids who meet the local celebrity.

"It seems I'm a pop star among children," says Uncle Martin.

While kids are on their green adventure in the garden, their parents can sit on cool stone benches, in the driftwood chairs, or swing in the hammock.

At first only a small plot, the garden is now in its third expansion.

Hotel guests are enthusiastic and help Uncle Martin build his garden.

"They offer suggestions and bring me various seeds and interesting pieces of wood to see if they can be used in my garden," says Uncle Martin. "It feels like a true family."


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