Connect with us

Thai Life

Phuket Gardening: From fetid to fragrant



PHUKET: Shakespeare’s father, John, was fined for digging a “midden” in front of his neighbor’s house. Very unneighborly. Today the word has almost vanished from the English language as modern sanitation systems have replaced the foul cesspits of yesteryear.

But make no mistake, a “midden” is neither pleasant to behold nor smell. Originally a hole in the ground, a dump for household refuse, shells or more likely human feces, the advent of rudimentary plumbing later meant that sewage could flow fitfully down a barely hidden pipe and discharge its fetid effluent in the surrounding soil – away from the house. That arrangement would have allowed Mr Shakespeare to get away with it.

Of course, “middens” are still part and parcel of life in Third World slums, but I was unprepared for one in the middle of an “expat’s” garden here in Phuket. After all, we supposedly live in a world where septic tanks or communal waste water systems are the norm. You would be surprised … there are lots of these cesspits on this paradisal island. And the danger to underground water tables that supply our wells is a very real one.

Raw sewage, like fresh manure, is hostile to plant growth. It is estimated that one gram of human feces contains one trillion bacteria.

But once microorganisms start to degrade and break down this material into less complex compounds, things start to improve. This process is aided by contact with soil; this filters out many pathogens.

Once health hazards diminish, the stench from the midden disappears, and sturdy plants can begin to colonize its borders.

The roots of these plants in turn absorb many toxic elements. Happily, our “expat” friend had done his level best to minimize the impact of this “midden” by planting herbs and especially basil around its edges.

Herbs are part and parcel of any and every Thai garden. They are one of the first things to be planted – as essential to Thai cooking as turmeric is to Spanish paella, garlic to Provençale aioli, or nutmeg to English rice pudding. The only decision is where to grow them – assuming you have a typical garden.

One school of thought favors a kitchen garden or herbarium where all your herbs can flourish together in neat rows.

Unarguably, this is a highly convenient arrangement. However, it has one key drawback, namely that herbs don’t all enjoy the same conditions.

Pepper, for example, does best in shady, moist conditions whereas chili needs plenty of sun to crop heavily. Lemon grass enjoys a dry environment, ginger plenty of water.

My “horses for courses” view takes account of these different cultural requirements, with my herbs dotted around the garden in company with their flowering fellows. In this way, you can select a suitably marshy spot for your ginger, or a dryer one for your lemon grass.

Basil, as my friend’s efforts attest, can be put anywhere. In fact, it may well take the prize for being the easiest of all herbs to grow. It crops up, unannounced in my scruffy lawn, and takes uncomplainingly to life in pots. Ocimum basilicum is an unobtrusive star.

Known as bai horapa in Thailand, it has intensely aromatic, dark green leaves and purplish stems and flower heads. There are other varieties: holy basil (gapow) has narrower leaves and needs to be cooked to release its full panoply of aromas. Lemon basil (bai manglak), which exudes the delicious scent of lemons, has pale green, slightly hairy foliage and generally makes a smaller plant.

All these varieties are both easy to grow and to propagate from cuttings. Simply put some stems in moist soil and within days they will have taken root. After all, if they can put up with a “midden”, they are unlikely to be fazed by much….

Tip of the week: Mulching

IT IS almost two years since we talked in these columns about mulching. Very relevant in today’s rainless conditions when the soil is in danger of drying out completely.

Mulching is the use of material to cover soil surfaces such as flower beds. Spread evenly up to a depth of two inches to allow some air and water through.

The process provides insulation from the full glare of the sun, prevents erosion in downpours, helps the retention of moisture in the earth, and inhibits weed growth.

The best mulches are organic: for example, coconut fiber or coir dust ( the cheapest, and readily available), compost, or shredded bark. Not dead leaves though, which in this climate are rarely utilized by earthworms to create humus.

Moreover, they may harbor disease. Better to use them in a compost heap where the heat will destroy potentially harmful bacteria.

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

Keep checking our online Phuket Lifestyle pages or join our Facebook fan page for regular gardening features and tips.

— Patrick Campbell


Get more from The Thaiger

Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Travel7 hours ago

Where to find underrated international cuisines in Bangkok

Bangkok8 hours ago

Chinatown manhole covers to use art, tech to become cultural map

Transport9 hours ago

Man fights Indian Railways for 22 years for justice (and 9 baht)

Events11 hours ago

Tourism Minister visits Full Moon Party, supports later curfew

Crime11 hours ago

Thais cautioned against fake government websites

Thailand12 hours ago

Another Thai boxer dies from brain injury after fight in Malaysia

Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
Thailand12 hours ago

Expats in Thailand, Cartoon characters & Letting Loose | Thaiger Bites

Pattaya13 hours ago

VIDEO: Young Thais have a blast at Pattaya Music Festival weekend 2

Pollution14 hours ago

Anti-Corruption Network complains of smelly wastewater in coastal Thai province

Weather14 hours ago

Flooding from overflowing rivers soaks Chiang Rai and the border

Phuket15 hours ago

Phuket police nab 3,373 meth pills from 5 suspects

Pattaya17 hours ago

Pattaya night club owner gives free meals on Thai Mother’s Day

Thailand17 hours ago

Current Thailand Visa Options for Digital Nomads

Central Thailand18 hours ago

Police find fake Covid-19 tests worth millions in central Thailand

World19 hours ago

UPDATE: Rushdie is talking again, attacker pleads not guilty

Thailand11 months ago

Morning Top Stories Thailand | Police to end protests, Human Trafficking | September 14

Thailand1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism1 year ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism1 year ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand1 year ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism1 year ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand2 years ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11