A colourful garden
People like colours. For some people, it is the brightness of the colour that counts, so they are equally enchanted by a colourful poster, a plastic flower or a field of Mexican sunflower weeds (Tithonia diversifolia) in Mae Hong Son. In fact, local politicians in Mae Hong Son (northern Thailand) are ready to remove a century old forest with 2000 plant species, to plant just this single exotic weed. They think the tourists want that. Some do, but the majority would be shocked if they learnt the truth behind the yellow field. This is the result of stupid people guiding innocent people. With knowledge you will appreciate native orchids and fine arts, instead of exotic weeds and plastic key rings. The curse of knowledge is the immense suffering from watching pigs trample the pearls.
Although plastic lawns are offered to suburbian homes, most gardeners enjoy growing living plants. To such people, gardening is more about enjoying and admiring life, although colours are still important. However, many of the largest and most colourful flowers are man-made hybrids. The chrysanthemum which I like very much, is grown north of Chiang Mai. The growers apply fungicides, pesticides, herbicides and waste energy on strong lamps at night to force the plants to grow taller. This manipulation is more of mass production of art than care for life. Chrysanthemums have been grown for centuries, being a symbol of friendship and the Chinese emperor, but poisons and day length manipulation have only been used recently. The reason is that we, the buyers, cherish unnatural flowers more than flowers which once were good enough for the Chinese emperor.
Some gardeners are purists and say the flower has to be natural, not a result of man-made crossings and selections. Such plants were here long before man, and in contrast to many colourful hybrids, the original flowers serve a function (reproduction). In such a garden, the gardener is less of an artist, and more of a care-taker.
After all, gardeners are very different, and colour may not be the only element of importance. Stones, moss, leaves, sculptures, trees, vegetables, grafted fruits, butterflies, birds, fragrance, biodiversity, permaculture, mushrooms, lawns, meadows and topiaries are equally interesting garden elements to explore. What is so lovely with Chiang Mai, is the multitude of different plant sites, from formal resort gardens to fruit orchards and national park monuments. Plastic or original flowers, every design is correct if the gardener likes it himself. A chit-chat with the gardener will make us understand and appreciate his intentions, like walking into an art gallery to chat with a painter.
Two vendors at the local Khamtieng flower market in Chiang Mai have realised many people just want colours. Such people are not interested in the plants per se. Fair enough. It is better such people buy these plastic flowers than orchids stolen from the forest. Update 2013: recently people have begun bringing plastic flowers to natural sites to enchant the innocent tourists.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell, Dokmai Garden