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How does your garden grow?  By Eric Danell, Dokmai Garden


Air layering

Air layering can be a simple way of cloning a neighbour’s delicious fruit variety.

Seeds are the natural propagules for plant reproduction, also providing genetic diversity which is important in restoration projects. For a gardener who wants to multiply a certain variety, say a particularly beautiful flower or tasty fruit, cloning is the option. Previously I have blogged about mango grafting. Another cloning technique is by taking cuttings. For some species like Ixora, Cassava, Plumeria and Malabar spinach this works without problems, simply put a cutting in the soil and water.

In many cases this does not work because a particular species may not cope with the water losses, and so you can bend down living branches and put a stone on the branch and cover with soil to induce root formation. This is a way of natural cloning, performed by lianas such as Pride of Lanna (Congea tomentosa, Lamiaceae).

If this is technically impossible due to an erect tree or shrub, you can bring the soil up to the branch, i.e. you can wrap a branch section in a plastic bag with moist soil, wait until roots are formed, and then detach the branch. To further stimulate root formation, you may cut the bark (more precisely the phloem under the bark) so that sugars can not disappear from the branch, but water can still transport into the branch via the wood (xylem). This is called air layering.

Working in the tropics gives many surprises and I am still not used to the tremendous force of growth here. During the past rainy season we simply tied socks and shade cloth to branches of guava. After a few weeks, we unwrapped the branches and sure enough there were roots. No need to bring soil or think of watering! [email protected]

A natural organic sponge

Organic and unbleached luffa from Dokmai Garden.

The vascular system of the cucumber relative ‘luffa’ or ‘loofah’ (Luffa cylindrica syn. L. aegyptiaca, Cucurbitaceae) is often used as a sponge at spas. This native of the old world tropics has a remarkable and flexible surface which contributes to keep your skin in good trim (removing dead cells). We grew a batch at Dokmai Garden in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, mostly for food since they are edible when young. Recently we harvested our mature fruits and so garden school students and family members have enjoyed using these luxurious sponges for skin massage while taking a shower. ‘Angled luffa’, L. acutangula, is more commonly sold in the Chiang Mai markets as food. This Indian fruit has ridges, while true L. cylindrica are smooth. The vascular bundles of this species can also be used as a sponge, but they are less durable.

If grown as a sponge, even systemic pesticides which go inside the plant may have been used. Personally I would not rub my skin with such chemicals, designed to kill.

Our lifetime members may pick up up an organic luffa for free next time they come and visit. Other visitors may buy one for 50 Baht to support the Orchid Ark. [email protected]

The Sandpaper Fig

Sandpaper figs are named that way for the rough surface of their leaves. (Photo by Eric Danell)

Ficus hispida (Moraceae) or ‘sandpaper fig’ is a very common fig tree around Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. It is a fast-growing tree characterized by a white latex, rough, sandpapery leaves and fruits formed straight on the trunk and main branches. The sandpaper fig often pop up like a weed, even in flowering pots. It is highly resistant to drought, a rare trait among figs.

The Dokmai garden specimen was probably introduced by a bird and is now a low tree with a massive production of fruits. The fruits are not as tasty as those of F. racemosa and F. auriculata, two other native fig species found at Dokmai Garden, but their abundance make the tree a good bird magnet. The figs can also be used to feed our wild boar or be used for making marmalade. [email protected].

A Beautiful edible gingerr

The surrounding jungles harbour many interesting organisms. Wild orchids, wild boar and here the fleshy edible bracts of a wild ginger. According to our garden school student Emily Driskill it tastes like ‘spicy celery’. I have failed to identify it, inspite of Kai Larsen’s eminent book ‘Gingers of Thailand’. Would anyone know this species?

A few years ago people did not believe me when I said there was a gorgeous mountain valley with no tourist adaptations within an hour drive from Chiang Mai airport. During yesterday’s excursion to this Mae Kanin Tai I had to conclude the magic is gone, a resort is under construction, but maybe that is good?

The current culture of the valley, surrounded by the Opkhan national park, was doomed anyhow. Today’s rice farmers who are in their 40′s may go on for another 20 years, but their educated children will not bend backs for 300 Baht a day. The question is how the valley would develop when that happens? Establishing a resort with the aim of keeping a quiet atmosphere and admiration for nature and culture may in fact preserve some of the original cultural landscape, centuries old. Of course, ideally a resort should be placed outside the boundaries of the valley and then allow for excursions. This is what Dokmai Garden has done since the past few years in order to keep the magic intact. The current evolution was foreseen and inevitable, and maybe even the best for wildlife and wild orchids?

If you wish to see the last glimpse of authentic landscape before the tourist adaptations, go there this weekend. Do not waste time trying to buy land. What could be bought has already been bought. A real estate dealer could not believe his ears when he learnt that Ketsanee at one point offered her 4 rai land near the temple for 2.6 million Baht. At present he suggested not a Baht below 5 million, but Ketsanee has decided not to sell at all. . [email protected]