How does your garden grow?
By Eric Danell, Dokmai Garden
These days are hectic; upcoming Orchid
Congress in Singapore, preparing the garden for the upcoming tourist season
and a constant eye on the clouds, also at night. Some rains during the past
few days. No problems since we are well prepared.
The birds also seem busy. Many migrants
from the north make a stop at Dokmai Garden. Currently we have many white
herons, both Great Egret and Intermediate Egret. The Chinese pond-heron is
funny. It looks like an old brown folded leaf of a propeller tree
(Dipterocarpus tuberculatus) from a distance, but when you get close he
would suddenly unfold his snow-white wings and the leaf flies away. A
perfect camouflage now in the winter season. We also had a visit of the
Black eagle. It is a resident, presumably quite uncommon but since our eagle
lives nearby we see him now and them. All black with a long tail, and he
usually flies low. Right now he looks a bit shabby. Like our chicken and
guinea fowl, being constantly wet puts your feathers in great need for a
spa. We have more Hoopoes now during the Chinese winter, although there is
usually one or two also in the breeding season.
Our frequent visitors will notice that
we have recently removed the aviary and released the silver pheasant. The
immediate decision was based on the sudden disappearance of the female.
Stolen? Python? Cat? We do not know. When the male was released he got into
trouble with a stray dog and so he has a limp at the moment. He tends to
jump towards me, and I thought it was because he expected food. Yesterday I
just passed him and he began jumping after me. I said something impolite
about him being a beggar, but then Ketsanee remarked “look, he has plenty of
food”. Indeed that morning he was served a constant buffet with rice and
clean water. Apparently he just wanted to be near me, feeling protected from
murderous dogs and the cocky rooster. I felt guilty and so I wanted to just
hug him and comfort him, but I guess he would freak out so I just talked
kindly to him. He is a very polite listener.
Are avocado trees suitable for Chiang Mai?
In an earlier article I concluded that in Chiang Mai
avocadoes make blossoms already at age three. Then how come that Tops
supermarket and Rimping here in Chiang Mai import avocadoes from Australia
and sell them at a cost of 45-50 Baht each? It is hard to explain,
especially since I picked up gorgeous avocadoes in Mae Sai recently. I paid
100 Baht for 3 kg, and since they were huge I ‘only’ got eight avocado
fruits for that price. The locals do sell them immature and very hard, but
if you keep them at room temperature (not in the fridge or they will spoil)
they will soon mature which you can see by the darkening of the rind.
So why don’t we see more avocado in the Chiang Mai
gardens? There are at least four reasons.
1. Avocado must have a well drained soil. A few hours
of standing water and the roots drown. Yes, plant roots breathe oxygen like
you and me. Different plant species have different tolerance, and some like
mangrove or lotus grow totally submerged. Avocado is sensitive. When the
roots die the leaves lose their turgor and they hang down like rags. The
paradox is that the leaves dry out due to flooding! Due to this year’s
flooding I guess many Thai avocado trees were killed. Luckily Dokmai Garden
was not too badly affected and so three of four specimens survived.Planting
it in a slope is good, and so many avocado trees grow in the mountains.
2. Avocado can not stand a prolonged drought. Make sure
you can water it during the dry season November-April.
3. One avocado tree is usually not enough. Many avocado
cultivars demand cross-pollination between different individuals. If your
garden is small (an avocado can reach 20 meters), maybe ask a neighbour if
they wish to plant an avocado too, and then both of you benefit.
4. Finally, to the Thais avocado is still something of
a novelty. Good cultivars can be a bit hard to find, but if you are not
picky simply plant a seed. Yesterday I made a basic guacamole (two huge
avocados, three large cloves of garlic, three chili peppers, the juice from
one lime fruit and a pinch of salt, all mixed with a mixer). The Thais were
a bit reluctant even to try it, but to my great satisfaction they liked it
very much. Guacamole is much more healthy than cream-based dips.
I do think avocado should be planted in the Chiang Mai
gardens since it is an evergreen, fast-growing and beautiful tree with
gorgeous fruits. As long as you meet its requirements you should be
successful. Do you rather prefer trees with colourful blossom? Then let a
colourful creeper trail up in your avocado. The New Guinea Creeper (Mucuna
bennettii) is most suitable.
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One of the ancients
According to Ketsanee, ‘jun’
refers to the moon, because the fruit resembles a little yellow moon. Why
not use the English name ‘Moon ebony’ to create an interest for this unusual
Given the recent heavy rains and
landslides, I would like to present a few interesting trees which could be
used for both preventing erosion and to add beauty.
With 1100 wild tree species in northern
Thailand there are many options. Unfortunately only a limited number are
available. This is mainly due to lack of demand. Land owners who want a
forest accept the free governmental teak seedlings (Tectona grandis,
Lamiaceae), although a much greater number of tree species are offered,
including the valuable rosewoods (Dahlbergia spp., Fabaceae) which
are now stolen in the national parks. Since the land owners want a quick
cash reward for themselves, they are not interested in making money for
their children or grandchildren, nor are they interested in biodiversity.
However, if you belong to the vanishing minority of the human population who
do care, then you should visit a Thai governmental forest nursery and ask
what they have to offer. Some examples: Mai Dhaeng (Xylia xylocarpa,
Fabaceae, a beautiul dome-shaped tree with a valuable and durable wood),
Takien (Hopea odorata, Dipterocarpaceae, a black-stemmed slow growing
species with an amazingly valuable wood and small flowers smelling of honey)
and Makha (Afzelia xylocarpa, Fabaceae, a burgundy red wood used for
floors. Very sturdy, can stand flooding and droughts). Australian Eucalypts
may not be a good choice as they may lower your water table significantly in
the dry season.
If you are lucky you may stumble upon
an ebony (Diospyros, Ebenaceae). Luk jun, en Esan name for
Diospyros decandra, is one of ‘the ancient trees’, not seen very often
now. Thai elderly visitors coming to
Dokmai Garden in Chiang Mai clap their hands when they see our small
tree, and you can almost see tears in the corners of their eyes. Not only
does it have a magnificent and expensive wood, not only does it grow into
majestic proportions, but it has edible fruits with a lovely perfume! It is
not included in Simon Gardner’s book on northern Thai trees, so maybe it has
a more eastern range, although I have seen it Luang Prabang in Laos which
should imply it might have grown in northern Thailand before the loggers
Blue or silver bamboo
(Dendrocalamus sericeus) is strong and beautiful, perfect for keeping a bank
in position. Beware of its height though, 15-20 m!
Chiang Mai has experienced its richest
rain fall in a long time. At Dokmai Garden we have so far measured 319 mm in
September, which is 69 mm more than the average measured at Chiang Mai
airport. This equals three additional heavy rains compared to the average
year. Yesterday in the morning we received 48 mm in just 90 minutes,
resulting in closed roads, schools, train stations and even some casualties.
Dokmai Garden is well fit to cope with this although a current visit demands
good foot wear due to the soggy conditions, but it is green, and I
discovered a new wild orchid yesterday, probably another Cymbidium
aloifolium. I think the origin might be our ancient mango. I do not know
what is up there.
If you wish to cope with the water,
here are some useful advice:
1. Do not cut down all trees. Trees
bind the soil.
2. Chiang Mai is full of quarries to
trap water for the dry season. This is good and a tradition since the first
Thai speaking people arrived in the 13th century. However, do not plant
trees in the slope only. The weight of the rains may make them fall down as
their roots are gripping a jelly-like soil only. Plant some trees 5-10
meters before the edge of the quarry.
3. An excellent erosion control is
bamboo. Bambusa vulgaris, the golden variety, forms a thick root
system. The culms are very tall though so beware of roofs and power lines.
Smaller species might be more useful in such conditions. I have already been
asked to put together the outlines for producing bamboo commercially. It is
a clever thought as everyone in town will start thinking about soil erosion
now. Unfortunately I am too busy with the orchids.
4. Avoid heavy dripping. Let the ground
vegetation grow tall in August and September to reduce the power of the rain
drops battering the soil. Add leaf litter (do not burn it) which also reduce
the power of the rain drops. The leathery leaves of propeller trees (Dipterocarpus
spp.) are perfect. This is especially important if you repair damaged soil.
Remember, rain can make holes even in stones.
5. Keep an eye on your garden, make
frequent checks, also during the rain. Weather forecasts are erratic, but
may give you a hint:
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