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Bonsai, cacti, palms and ponds – Phuket Gardening



PHUKET: One article could hardly begin to catalog the sheer scope and variety of the Phuket Botanical Garden, with its 15 rai and an army of 30 gardening staff. There are more than 30 independent zones, ranging from Thai inspired mini-gardens to a Japanese style affair complete with miniature pagoda and red rectangular arch; even an English Garden with raised boxes of petunias and pots of busy lizzies (impatiens), all in multicolored bloom (click here for article).

Interestingly, these are two annuals that will cope both with the cool climate of Britain, suitably protected, with the searing heat of Phuket. Other annuals such as African marigolds, capable of surviving both environments, featured in displays elsewhere.

In the Cactus Garden, an array of round, prickly succulents, some the size of basketballs, each carefully labeled, and thriving in simulated desert-like conditions, reminded me of Arizona.

A tour around Phuket’s Botanic Garden. Video: Phuket Today

But the stars of the show are Thai inspired. There is a splendid Bonsai Garden with a huge horse and elephant fashioned from living greenery that stand guard over the entrance. Low clipped hedges of box-like evergreens lead the eye to massed plantings of astilbes in vivid shades of orange, deep red and magenta. Here are massive bromeliads, some more than six feet tall and – a real surprise – round beds of ground-hugging wedelia, looking perky with their bright green foliage and yellow starry flowers.

The tranquil fern garden also had its fair share of massive bromeliads, aechmeas and purplish neoregelias to the fore. This is a particularly impressive zone, landscaped with rocks and statuary, and awash with fountains and waterfalls to provide the necessary humidity. Even the rocks are mossy. Ferns abound everywhere, especially a luxuriant stand of sword ferns (nephrolepis cordifolia).

No Thai garden would be complete without its palms. The area devoted to single specimens [though there are palms galore] was a lawn, carpeted with Malaysia grass. Of course, the tall, statuesque palms allow plenty of light to filter through beneath. This zone provided tangible evidence of that fact: here, the humble oil palm rubbed fronds with a glaucous Bismarck palm, here, foxtails, a spreading phoenix palm and even a traveller tree shared the space with a copernica palm replete with huge glossy fruits.

Other zones were less foreseeable. There is a butterfly garden – a nice touch – and a vine garden, set in deep shade, Predictably, it is drained of color save for an irrepressible violet/blue clitoria ternatea and a budding Rangoon creeper.

The Variegated Leaf Garden, fronted by an impressive green and yellow leaved fig was relatively bare, though the Sufficient Garden, where a large shallow pond, looked destined to produce a crop of rice.

A real revelation, however, was the Winter Garden, a sector beneath a plastic dome, which housed, in its air-conditioned atmosphere, the most extraordinary array of begonias in pots, of a scarlet hue so brilliant that I initially thought they were plastic. It just shows what can be done.

So does the whole enterprise. All right, it has double pricing, a fact which doubtless deters tourists and expats. Sadly, the place was almost deserted. The brochure does no justice to the place, and though there are attractive signposts, there is no map of the Gardens. Visitors would surely pay for one. Labeling was sporadic.

But these are minor cavils. For this is a special place which not only botanists, but journeymen gardeners and anyone interested in Thailand’s natural heritage would profit from visiting. It is a work of art, a labor of love, artistically conceived and imaginatively landscaped, which offers intimations of how an undeveloped Phuket might once have looked.

If you missed the first instalment on The Phuket Botanic Garden, I hope this week’s account will persuade you to go. It is situated off Chao Fa Soi 48. The right turn into 48 from Chao Fa West is directly next to the offices of TOT. From Chao Fa East, take a left turn at Soi 14 (click here for map).

If you have a question, or a garden that you would like featured, you can email Patrick Campbell here.

Keep checking our online Phuket Lifestyle pages, follow us on Twitter @phuketgazette or join our Facebook fan page for regular gardening features and tips.

— Patrick Campbell


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