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Is the grapevine suitable for a monsoon garden?

October 10, 2010

The grapevine, Vitis vinifera (Vitaceae), is the source of fruit for wine making. Many gardeners, including myself, host a romantic urge to grow it in the home garden. Since it is native to the Mediterranean and western Asia, it is adapted to a Mediterranean climate quite different from our tropical monsoon climate here in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. Its domestication began some 5000 years ago, probably in the Caucasus. The first Thai grape wine was launched in 1994, and surprisingly some varieties have now reached a drinkable taste. We hope to be able to offer a wine tasting in the future.

As to the attempts of growing it here at Dokmai Garden, we have concluded that without pesticides it is virtually impossible. During the rainy season (May-October) the insects totally devour it, and it always looks pathetic. South African visitors have remarked they have similar problems, and pesticide management is necessary for an economical crop. Since we wish to avoid pesticides, we simply decided to remove this species from our collection until somebody comes up with monsoon strains.

There are other members of the grapevine family, indigenous to tropical regions. For instance, at Dokmai Garden we grow the Living curtain, Cissus verticillata. I have never heard that anybody would eat the tiny fruits, but the aerial roots are most decorative and we use it as a living curtain.

Eric Danell

A sign at the Floating Market outside Bangkok warns the tourists about eating grapes recently treated with pesticides.

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