Connect with us

Thai Life

Phuket Gardening: Wallflowers and blushing violets

Legacy Phuket Gazette

Published 

 on 

Phuket Gardening: Wallflowers and blushing violets | The Thaiger
  • follow us in feedly

PHUKET: The English language has a wealth of expressions for reticent or modest behavior. “Take a back seat” is one; another, with a biblical provenance, talks of “hiding your light under a bushel”. Brought up as children on AA Milne’s tales, older Phuket Gazette readers may recall Winnie the Pooh saying: “it’s not much of a tail, but I’m sort of attached to it.” Endearing.

Oddly, a number of these expressions for self-effacement use floral metaphors. For example, we may refer to a “blushing or (shrinking) violet”, or “a wallflower”.

The literal source of the violet trope is a small flower related to the pansy.

It grows unobtrusively in secluded, shady and often marshy spots, and hides its small but fragrant blooms behind large heart-shaped leaves. Hence the phrase’s aptness as a description of shy, withdrawn people.

The wallflower survives in taxing conditions in the wild, perched on cracked rocks and old walls. A member of the mustard genus (cheiranthus), it produces clusters of dull bronze or orange flowers. However, the metaphor “wallflower” has a later origin: it was first used by an eighteenth century novelist to refer to sad girls left to fret on the sidelines at ‘posh’ balls. Like the flower, the expression has survived the test of time.

Both these unassuming plants hail from temperate climates. In the tropics, the floral emphasis is more often on bold, even brash colors, on plants such as orchids, chalice vines, allamandas, or brugmansias that say “look at me, aren’t I stunning! I’m not going to be a wallflower.” But even in these hot-house conditions, there are unpretentious species that perform a serviceable job in the garden with the minimum of fuss and attention.

One of the most useful of these shrubs is euphorbia cotonifolia. While it pales in significance alongside its cousins – the crown of thorns, or the showy white sprays of euphorbia leucocephela – it will grow almost anywhere, and even in shady conditions.

Multi-branched from the base, it forms a large bush with its green and lightly purple-mottled or crimson leaves, and reddish stems. Known in Thailand as thon-po-daeng, the name alludes to the color of its foliage, which in the case of some recent cultivars, or when given enough sun, will produce leaves of a brilliant magenta.

That this plant has become naturalized on waste land around Phuket is an indication of its capacity, like the violet and the wallflower, to survive in unhelpful conditions. It will happily co-exist with other trees and shrubs, will plug gaps in your garden, and can be used to accompany other container plants. Three things to note: The flowers, small, round and cream, are pretty but take second place to the foliage.

Moreover, the stems are jointed and therefore quite brittle. And if deprived of water, cotonifolia will wilt. But it invariably recovers, once moisture gets to its roots. And if you do not want to go looking for it around the island’s waste lots, cultivars are available in plant nurseries.

Phyllanthus myrtifolius
belongs to the same vast euphorbia family. Another attractive foliage shrub, this one has a low growing habit, and is especially useful for raised beds or planted along the edges of a fish pond, where it will soften or hide the margins of the pool. It has long, slender branches which arch over, and dark, evergreen, fern-like leaflets. These may sprout roots when they come in contact with the ground.

Like cotonifolia, it makes an effective and unobtrusive cover when planted among larger or more vibrant shrubs. And similarly, phyllanthus will tolerate most conditions including poor soil. But it is essentially a sun-lover: this makes it a good choice for a rockery, where it may rub shoulders with cacti, pandanus pygmaeus and tradescanthias.

Tip of the week – Fighting the elements
Being a small tropical island, Phuket has a salty atmosphere, which particularly affects gardens near the sea. Some plants – milkweed, sea lettuce, stilt palms, sea-almond and casuarina trees seem to thrive in such conditions. But most are vulnerable to the combination of gusting winds and saline air.

Trees with tender, lush foliage such as ashokas (polyalthia) or trees with delicate fronds such as bananas are easily damaged: the result – shredded fronds or foliage and in some cases loss of leaves.

I recently visited a mature garden near Karon Beach encircled by tall buildings, which had created a kind of wind tunnel. A long row of ashokas had been planted to form a wind-break – a common choice for this purpose in Thailand – but years of buffeting winds had caused them to lean in one direction and, in the worst affected area, to lose most of their foliage.


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

Keep in contact with The Thaiger by following our Facebook page.
Never miss out on future posts by following The Thaiger.

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

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Thailand

Things that have changed in Thailand in the Covid Era | Top 10 | VIDEO

The Thaiger

Published

on

Things that have changed in Thailand in the Covid Era | Top 10 | VIDEO | The Thaiger

Top 10 things that have changed in Thailand during the Covid-era Things have changed. In some cases they’ve changed a lot and may never be the same again. Many people are suffering as a result of the impacts of lockdowns and the border closures. Some people are being forced to re-invent their lives as a result. Here are some of the main things we believe have changed since January this year. Face Masks The now every-present face mask is now with us for a long time. In Asia, it was never uncommon to see people wearing face masks, for traffic, […]

Continue Reading

Tourism

Riding and renting a motorbike in Thailand | Top 10 tips | VIDEO

The Thaiger

Published

on

Riding and renting a motorbike in Thailand | Top 10 tips | VIDEO | The Thaiger

Motorbikes and scooters are the most popular mode of transport in Thailand, and most of south east Asia. In many cases, they’re the ‘engine’ for the local economies. Most of them just go and go and go, they’re astonishingly reliable. Getting around on a motorbike is easy enough and will get you to your destination faster, whilst the cars and trucks are plodding along in the traffic. But riding a motorbike in Thailand can also be very dangerous. If you stick to the common sense basics – ride within the speed limits, wear a bike helmet, obey the traffic rules […]

Continue Reading

Bangkok

Khao San Road to reopen for Halloween

Caitlin Ashworth

Published

on

Khao San Road to reopen for Halloween | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Facebook: The Club Khaosan

The party is coming back to Khao San Road this Halloween. The once booming backpacker district went through a renovation during the lockdown period and now the Bangkok governor says they’re ready to reopen the street. Khao San Road has long been a district frequented by foreign backpackers. It’s known for it’s grungy and lively bar scene as well as its eccentric mix of street food, like scorpion on a stick. During the lockdown, 48.4 million baht was put into the streets for major renovations like leveling out the road and footpaths, adding some gutters and designating space for emergency […]

Continue Reading
Follow The Thaiger by email:

Trending