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Why do we love gardening?

March 26, 2010

When I went to Singapore I exchanged experience with the director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Dr Chin. I mentioned that “…sometimes we have a cow problem”, i.e. cows walk into the parking. Our Singaporean friend got a romantic look in his eyes, and he said “Oh, you are situated in the countryside….”. We tend to forget that some people spend most of their time in cities, where a park is the only link to nature. I once met an American biology professor who confessed that before he went to university, he had never been outside Los Angeles.

Innocently I explained to my Singaporean friend that Dokmai Garden did not intend to grow pineapples, bananas or corn, as we (botanists and Thai farmers in collaboration) thought they are too common, everybody knows them. We wanted to focus on more rare plants. Luckily Dr Chin remarked that there are many city children who have never seen bananas grow, so we changed our minds. Right now we have 20 different species and varieties of bananas, and a beautiful crop of pine apples ripening. It was good we changed our minds. We even get American adult guests who see corn (maize) for the first time in their lives. We get many questions like “which part of the rice do you eat”? Luckily we can show that, as we grow rice all year round. One of our Garden School pupils told me that one visitor had not understood that after blossom there is a fruit. She had never realised the connection, which is not strange if you only see sterile man-made ornamental hybrid flowers. Every time we realise we have created a paradigm shift in a visitor’s concept of life, we feel happiness. No knowledge should be taken for granted, and it is our duty to show everything about plants and answer any questions, to create an understanding, love, and most importantly; a care for nature. A tree is not a dead thing, and a flower must not necessarily be big and showy, it has another purpose than being an ornamental.

We escort most visitors through the garden, and the chatting about plants, butterflies, birds, soil and cooking make people dare to ask anything. I believe this escort, and the fact that we know how to grow our 900 different plants, is the success of Dokmai Garden. Pointing at a plant in a forest and saying its name is not enough, you have to know the plants since their childhood, because by sharing their suffering when mistreated, you learn what each species need. In addition to the corn and bananas mentioned above, we have over 250 other edible species, and some are indeed rare, but they are only appreciated by a very small fraction of exceptionally learned visitors. The vast majority get excited simply by making friends with trivial species, finally seeing black pepper, or tasting a series of  different basils or by discussing how to grow teak. Actually, the reasons why we love gardening is not limited to the love for the plants, but also because we love to chat about gardening. We learn new things from our visitors too, every day! The world comes to us, we exchange knowledge, and then we share the knowledge of the world with you! That is why we love gardening!

Eric Danell

Mika, here 1.5 years old, loves gardening!

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