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Phuket Gardening: An unkempt piece of paradise



PHUKET: It is a truism that your garden is an expression of yourself. In a literal sense, this is obvious: you are the person responsible for its design, its maintenance, and for the plants you put in or leave out. When I was an undergraduate long ago, the Professor of Biology, an acknowledged authority on botany, spoke on a weekly BBC radio program called Gardener’s Question Time.

Ironically, his own garden was a neglected wilderness of weeds. So when the “Beeb” wanted to interview him in his own back-yard, he did a deal with his neighbor, the Philosophy Professor, who happened to have a splendid garden. So, in blissful ignorance, the BBC did the outside broadcast in the wrong place. No doubt they said very flattering things about his horticultural prowess.

Your garden, however, reflects your personality in more subtle ways. For instance, my father adored roses and cultivated more than a hundred varieties of hybrid tea rose. He also loved the sheer opulence of closely mown grass. In fact, our lawn occupied about half the total area of the plot.

On the other hand, the kitchen garden was relegated to the back yard, hidden behind a trellis of rambler roses. Looked after by the odd-job man, he always complained he didn’t have enough space to grow what was needed in the “Dig for victory”. Dad certainly loved fresh vegetables, but he found them short on aesthetic appeal.

What does that say about him? That he loved beautiful things, but lacked any practical sense whatsoever. For him opera, books and flowers were prime pleasures; certainly not anything as mindless as sport. Cricket and football were for “flannelled fools and muddied oafs”.

Talk of fox-hunting brought forth a dismissive quotation from Oscar Wilde: “the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable”. Horse racing, the “sport of kings” left him as cold as a cucumber in its winter frame. As for mending things: when his brother asked where the tool box was, my mother replied he might as well search for the crown jewels.

So what I wonder does my garden say about “yours truly”? Well, for a start, I would find little favor with most Thais who love order: neatly pruned hedges of ixora or duranta, maybe some elegant topiary, carefully arranged flower beds, color-coded borders where all the vibrant colors complement each other. There’s Nothing wrong with any of these ideas. What they all reflect is the desire to bring the human element more into play, to manage and keep in check what could so easily become in tropical conditions a rioting mass of springing vegetation.

By this token I am not a proper gardener. For a start, my garden is far too lush – though overgrown might be a better word. In part, this stems from my dislike of controlling Mother Nature: too much of that goes on already in Phuket and I prefer to let plants go their own way. Of course there is a downside to this. Already some trees have grown too unruly: already I have had to cull a mango and a fiddlewood. My solitary avocado has exceeded all my expectation in terms of growth – though not yet in terms of fruit. The alstonia supports a beautiful climbing purple bignonia, currently in full flower, but it is only a matter of time before its all too solid trunk and rampant roots will begin to undermine the adjacent wall. Both yellow palms and peruvianas have been cut back.

The other quirk of my garden is that it contains too many different foliage and flowering plants. I did this for a reason: namely so I could write in these columns about each and every species from personal experience.

A laudable aim I hope, but one which has meant a rash of varieties crowded together without enough concern for color-coding or coherent planning. Personally I don’t mind this profusion, but I know I’m in a minority – probably of one.

If you have a question or a garden that you would like featured you can email me at:

— Patrick Campbell


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

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