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Roses in a monsoon climate

January 21, 2011

Since about 20 years, Thai home gardeners have discovered there are other plants but fruits and vegetables. The Thai beauty concept is still largely confined to colours, but we hope soon the Thais will discover other garden traits such as leaf morphology, tree contours and biodiversity. Among the colourful plants, roses and other exotic imports have a prominent position.

In the Thai society status is extremely important, and planting roses shows your wealth since you have to afford staff, pesticides, fertilizers and frequent replacements as the roses often die here in the Chiang Mai valley.

At Dokmai Garden we only grow the Damask rose (Rosa x damascena) since many other roses are either too vulnerable or too plain. The Damask rose is native to the hot Middle East and was cultivated for its gorgeous fragrance. It was also cultivated by the Mon people, a Khmer culture of the Haripunchai kingdom dominating the area which later became Chiang Mai. This was before the conquest by Thai-speaking people in 1292. The aim of that cultivation was the making of rose water. The Thai name for this rose is ‘Kulap Mon’, or the ‘Mon rose’. However, the many devastating wars over the centuries wiped out culture and civilization. The damask rose was reintroduced from Britain by the Siamese King Chulalongkorn’s consort Dara Pirom (princess of the Lanna royal family) in the 20th century. I have desperately tried to find out the original cultivar names, so if any reader knows please let me know.

As to the present cultivation of the Damask rose here in the valley (300-350 meters above the sea level), you need to provide water, bone meal and good compost to make it thrive in the dry season (November-May). It will look like a skeleton during the rainy season (June-October) due to the insects. Your options are: spray heavily and regularly, remove the roses or wait for their recovery in the dry season. At Dokmai Garden we have selected not to spray, so this is the time to admire this rose. We have two colour varieties, light pink and rose.

If you have a Chiang Mai garden above 1200 meters altitude, your rose collection will look splendid. At high elevation you may also find wild roses, such as the white Helena rose (Rosa helenae) and the yellow tea rose (Rosa gigantea syn. R x odorata var. gigantea). The latter is the tallest (20m) rose in the world, and it also bears the largest rose flowers reaching 14 cm in diameter. Due to deforestation in India, China and Southeast Asia, we may lose this original giant, ancestor of many garden hybrids. Garden specimens deteriorate genetically, so wild roses have to be preserved in the forest. Future people will only know about the man-made hybrids, like children brought up in a city dump, being happy for a colourful shard of glass, unaware that diamonds ever existed.

A Damask rose from Dokmai Garden

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2011 4:42 AM

    Is the Mon Roses the same type of rose used in jasmine garlands พวงมาลัย and sold fresh all over Thailand?

    • November 23, 2011 6:45 AM

      Today there is a range of different roses used, any seem to do. I am not aware of descriptions of flower garlands from before 1880, but if you know of a botanical description of such an ‘original’ garland I should be most interested. The botanists did not arrive to northern Thailand until the early 20th century.

  2. Dara permalink
    April 3, 2012 9:51 AM

    I’ve looked through a lot of photographs of Thai and Cambodian royalty and they did not use roses in the old flower garlands, especially those used to hang over royal regalia. It was very simplistic; just Jasmine sambac, Calotropis gigantea (white) and Magnolia champaca.

    Today’s garland makers in Thailand uses Tabernaemontana pandacquii in place of jasmine sambac and often uses hybrid roses for the “uba” (these roses do have the same fullness of antique roses).

    Dokmaidogma, I wonder if any roses were introduce to Ayuthaya from Persia? Perhaps the Ispahan rose could have been one of them.

    • April 3, 2012 10:23 AM

      Very interesting information – now we know how the original garlands looked like! Although there are some rose species native to Thailand, they are all from high elevation and can not be grown in the valleys nor be kept for long. I am not aware of any document describing the use of roses in Ayuttaya, but since it was a very prosperous city I should not be surprised if there were some heat loving varieties such as the Mon rose. Interestingly, we have decided to omit roses from Dokmai Garden. Either we are trapped in pesticides or the roses will always look more dead than alive.

      Eric

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