A Very Small Look At ThailandMaster Gardener Scoop – September 9, 2015

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By Felicity Rixmann, Master Gardener

At Easter this year, I spent three weeks in Chiang Mai in the northern part of Thailand. What a wonderful and interesting part of the world with such lovely people who are always smiling. There was so much to see, from cleverly-trained elephants to delicate silks being woven by hand. However, this article is about gardens!

I was staying with my son and family. The courtyards around their home are shaded by trees which have green leaves all year long, while dropping the dead ones. It’s like living in permanent fall. They also have banana trees which, while I was there, were in flower. They had strange red and yellow blossoms hanging from the branches close to the trunk. We visited and drove by several banana plantations, and the fruits were in all stages of development. Rice grows in flat, flooded fields and is tended by farmers up to their calves in water. I should hate to do that. You never know what’s in that water. One of the highlights was a trip to a tea plantation. First, there was a short lesson on tea growing and harvesting. I was surprised to see the bushes were grown rather haphazardly on the hillside under very tall trees. They were not in regular rows as I had seen at other tea plantations. We were given baskets which we wore on our backs and were taught how to pick the tea—just the top two leaves. Then toss them over the shoulder into the basket. It was hot, tedious work (we struggled on until the bottom of the basket was barely covered!). The leaves were then spread out in the sun to wilt and then dried in special pans over an open flame. The tea tasting later was delicious.

For many years, farmers have grown opium poppies, but this is now illegal. Queen Sirikit instigated a plan for farmers to grow food crops and promised them a good price for their produce. So this opened up the “Royal Project” Shops. We went there twice a week to stock up on fruits and vegetables which were all very good quality. They also sold homemade cookies, cakes and candy.

Queen Sirikit is a great innovator, and she is the prime mover in building the botanic gardens. We wondered through woodland where Orchids had been “planted” in the tree bark, and there they flourished, looking more beautiful than ever in their natural habitat. The gardens have eight large greenhouses, mostly themed and all well worth wandering around. I took many photographs in the water-lily house where hip-high rectangular ponds had been built, each one with a different variety of plant. Another greenhouse had arid plants, and yet another omnivorous plants. In the jungle house, we climbed up steps and ramps to look down on the thick foliage and to see and hear the waterfall. On the outside were flowerbeds with roses and annual plants. Everywhere you looked, there were topiary bushes cut into wonderful shapes. The garden shop had so much to offer—jewelry made from dried plants and wood carvings made from teak. I bought a small carved elephant, and when I got it home, I discovered a small hole drilled in its rump. When I blew down it, the elephant made a trumpeting sound. What a wonderful souvenir.

A Very Small Look At Thailand