How does your garden grow?
By Eric Danell,
Growing roses in a monsoon climate
The Damask Rose grows well in
higher altitudes in Chiang Mai but gets eaten by bugs at lower elevations.
(Photo by H. Zell, Wikimedia.org)
Since about 20 years, Thai home gardeners have discovered
there are other plants but fruits and vegetables. The Thai beauty concept is
still largely confined to colours, but we hope soon the Thais will discover
other garden traits such as leaf morphology, tree contours and biodiversity.
Among the colourful plants, roses and other exotic imports have a prominent
In the Thai society status is extremely important, and planting roses shows
your wealth since you have to afford staff, pesticides, fertilizers and
frequent replacements as the roses often die here in the Chiang Mai valley.
At Dokmai Garden we only grow the Damask rose (Rosa x damascena) since many
other roses are either too vulnerable or too plain. The Damask rose is
native to the hot Middle East and was cultivated for its gorgeous fragrance.
It was also cultivated by the Mon people, a Khmer culture of the Haripunchai
kingdom dominating the area which later became Chiang Mai. This was before
the conquest by Thai-speaking people in 1292. The aim of that cultivation
was the making of rose water. The Thai name for this rose is ‘Kulap Mon’, or
the ‘Mon rose’. However, the many devastating wars over the centuries wiped
out culture and civilization. The damask rose was reintroduced from Britain
by the Siamese King Chulalongkorn’s consort Dara Pirom (princess of the
Lanna royal family) in the 20th century. I have desperately tried to find
out the original cultivar names, so if any reader knows please let me know.
As to the present cultivation of the Damask rose here in the valley (300-350
meters above the sea level), you need to provide water, bone meal and good
compost to make it thrive in the dry season (November-May). It will look
like a skeleton during the rainy season (June-October) due to the insects.
Your options are: spray heavily and regularly, remove the roses or wait for
their recovery in the dry season. At Dokmai Garden we have selected not to
spray, so this is the time to admire this rose. We have two colour
varieties, light pink and rose.
If you have a Chiang Mai garden above 1200 meters altitude, your rose
collection will look splendid. At high elevation you may also find wild
roses, such as the white Helena rose (Rosa helenae) and the yellow tea rose
(Rosa gigantea syn. R x odorata var. gigantea). The latter is the tallest
(20m) rose in the world, and it also bears the largest rose flowers reaching
14 cm in diameter. Due to deforestation in India, China and Southeast Asia,
we may lose this original giant, ancestor of many garden hybrids. Garden
specimens deteriorate genetically, so wild roses have to be preserved in the
forest. Future people will only know about the man-made hybrids, like
children brought up in a city dump, being happy for a colourful shard of
glass, unaware that diamonds ever existed.