Phuket gardening: Goodness gracious, great buds of fire

PHUKET: Blooming ‘flame trees’ have Phuket ablaze with scarlet flowers all over the island, particularly in July.

Trees, like flowers, often remain unnoticed until they burst into bloom. The seasonal rains stimulate a number of trees into showing off their wares. The flame trees, for example, are aflame with their brilliant scarlet flowers everywhere during their season.

Less dramatic, but sporting flowers of a similar hue, is the geiger tree (cordia sebestena). In Thailand it is known as khaw diaa.

It is a great tree to have in your garden for many reasons. For a start, although it blooms mainly during Phuket’s rainy season, the geiger tree will bud its orange flowers for most of the year.

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It is also remarkably unfussy about conditions. It will not only grow in poor soil with little care and attention, but it will also endure the salt-laden winds that harry Phuket’s coastline.

As if to illustrate this, there are a couple in bloom within spitting distance of Rawai Beach, and further up the Viset Road one is happily displaying its wares on a piece of waste ground.

The geiger tree does, however, like plenty of sun.

Although the geiger is a native of the Americas, it has been introduced to South East Asia and has quickly acclimatized and naturalized in this habitat. You can buy it in a few nurseries here, but it will take very easily from hardwood cuttings or, since the fruit is a drupe, from its stone.

The fruits, which resemble a small whitish-green lemon, are edible, though there is little flesh on them and the taste is sour.

The geiger is distinctive in a number of ways. The dark, evergreen leaves are rough to the touch and have sometimes been used as a substitute for sandpaper.

Moreover, the wood is extremely durable and can be used as timber.

The tree is normally grown as an ornamental for its brilliant orange flowers. These are tubular-shaped and appear in clusters of six to 10 paper-thin flowers that are attractive to bees and butterflies.

It is a sensible choice as a patio or yard tree since it has a neat habit and should require little or no pruning. The trunk is also relatively slim and the tree is unlikely to outgrow its surroundings.

Because it is wider than it is tall upon reaching maturity, the space beneath its branches makes it a good shade tree for the garden.

The cultivar (boissiere) with its larger creamy-white flowers is another option.

If you are uncertain which small tree or large shrub to choose, then consider cordia sebestena if you want a neat, long-flowering, low-maintenance tree. If you prefer something more showy, then go for yellow bells (tecoma stans), the yellow oleander (thevetia peruviana) or the peacock flower (dwarf poinciana).

All are similar in dimensions, and all flower more-or-less continuously and will tolerate a range of soil conditions.

But the geiger tree is the most forgiving of them all, and because of its bushy form, is the most useful as a shade-giver for lesser brethren in your garden.

Tip of the week – garden furniture

Attractive outdoor furniture will definitely enhance the overall appearance of your

Moreover, since this blissful climate allows us to spend so much time in the open air, these furnishings assume an added importance.

A few provisos. If you decide to use wood, say for a table and chairs, ensure that the wood is properly treated.

Cheap surface varnish will soon peel off, so go for furniture that has been properly stained and looks robust.

Of course, the best wood of all is teak. It will last longer, look better and will never suffer from the depredations of termites.

This is especially true if you are thinking of a sala, summer house or pavilion.

But teak is expensive and, if you believe in environmental issues, you should hesitate about using it since most comes from illegal sources.

Bamboo is an inexpensive, cheap and decorative alternative, but it will need to be replaced after a few years.

Phuket Gardening is Phuket Gazette columnist Patrick Campbell’s feature of all things flora.

If you have a garden that you would like to be featured in this page, please email:

Keep checking our online Phuket Lifestyle pages for regular gardening features and tips.

— Patrick Campbell

Thai Life

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