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


Miracle Berry

The ‘Miracle Berry’, Synsepalum dulcificum (Sapotaceae), may save your wallet and party! Buy the cheapest, sharpest and most awful wine you can get, eat a miracle berry and enjoy an exquisite and smooth vine!

The Miracle Berry makes everything taste sweeter.

The compound miraculin attaches to the sweet receptors of your tongue. At low pH (when it is sour) the miraculin will trigger the sweet receptor and electrical signals goes to your brain which erroneously declares a sweet sensation. In a small proportion of the population the miraculin attaches to the salt receptors, not so good if you like wine. We have even had the rare occasion of a visitor to Dokmai Garden declaring a mixed salty and sweet sensation, i.e. the miraculin attached to both receptors.

The plant is native to West Africa where it enabled local people to enjoy foods that were normally too sour to enjoy. A lemon, a bilimbi and even carbonated water will taste sweet.

Its fantastic properties have made it a common plant in tropical gardens and you will find it without problems at the Chiang Mai Khamtieng flower market if you ask for ‘miracle’. We grow it as a small bush in full sun and water moderately. It does not like water logging. You can grow it in a pot too. The fruits come in flushes many times a year, and should be eaten when fully red. Beware of the stone, and do not swallow to quickly, but let the tongue soak itself in the pulp. The effect lasts for about 45 minutes so do not eat this fruit before lunch or dinner.

Flowers for Songkran

The Thai New Year (Songkran) marks the beginning of the rainy season, the beginning of the Thai farmer’s year and the end of the drought. This year 2555 (543 years ahead of 2012) marks the number of years since the death of Lord Buddha. Since his death is considered the time of reaching enlightenment and breaking the cycle of rebirth, this is more important than his birthday, which according to legend happened many times. The administrative year 2555 actually began on January 1st, to synchronize with the rest of the world, but since 1940 April 13 is the fixed Thai New Year. Before 1888 the Thai New Year had different dates based on when the sun moved into the Aries Zodiac (mesha sankranti in Sanskrit language).

During Songkran many Thai families perform a ceremony called ‘rot nam dam hoa’, where children and grandchildren ask their parents and grandparents for forgiveness and they exchange blessings about long and healthy lives. In today’s ceremony at Dokmai Garden in Chiang Mai, Nived and Densak Seehamongkol held flowers of orange jessamine (Murraya paniculata, Rutaceae) between their hands, making a wai. An inferior Thai wais a superior Thai, and the superior may wai back, or just nod. A ‘wai’ is not similar to a handshake or greeting, it is a sign of submission. Being older means being superior to the children, and so the elders sat on a teak bench while the children held their heads lower sitting on cushions on the floor, feet pointed away. During the exchange of blessings, the children and grandchildren poured scented water with orange jessamine flowers over the hands of the elderly. This native flower was selected because it is white, the colour of purity, innocence and religion, and because it is scented.

While many western ceremonies are stiff and everyone terrified of doing something wrong, the Thai farmer’s ceremonies are ‘sabai sabai’ (easy going) full of giggles, jokes and chattering. It is perfectly OK to use an exclusive mai dhaeng (Xylia xylocarpa) mother of pearl bowl next to a turquoise plastic bucket. In the eyes of many Thais, a uniform perfected style is not important, while the core of the activity, the actual blessing, is. This view pervades garden design and architecture. Function is more important than a coherent uniform theme. Although a farang (a westerner) feels like Mr Bean during such a ceremony, his presence is appreciated and his mistakes forgiven. [email protected]

A Palace Garden

Chiang Mai is a good destination for garden lovers due to the many different gardens and the national parks. One garden which is often overlooked by the many foreigners who go to the Doi Suthep temple is the Puphing palace (Bhuping, Bhubing, Puping, Pu-ping or Phuping are other spellings). It is situated just a few kilometers beyond the famous temple, uphill on the mountain.

There are several reasons to go there. One is to escape the heat of the valley. Another is to see a contemporary royal palace. For Thai tourists, this is a rare chance to see many exotic temperate species, such as Browallia, Fuchsia, Antirrhinum and roses. Any settler with a sudden rose abstinence may want to go here in April. In addition there are native high elevation species such as Mahonia nepalensis and orchids. This is also a place to understand the contemporary Thai garden taste. There will be loudspeakers outdoors with spa music, the sound of waves and bird calls (European nightingale and tree sparrows). Do not expect an abundance of signs or English-speaking staff, this is a garden for the Thai royalties to enjoy, and they share with you when they are absent.

Visitors should be aware it is a royal garden and so it might be closed when the royal family is there. Enquire ahead at your hotel. Also, be aware that the lunch break is between 11.30 and 13.00. Recently there is a regulation that men and women must have long trousers or long skirts (tights are not accepted), so either you rent such clothes at the spot or you dress up in advance.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Miracle Berry

Flowers for Songkran

A Palace Garden