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Green Thoughts: Let your personality grow

It is a truism that your garden is an expression, an extension of self. In a very literal sense, this is blindingly obvious: you are the person responsible for its design, its maintenance, and for the plants you decide to put in it. When I was an undergraduate, the Professor of Biology, an acknowledged authority on things botanical, spoke on a weekly BBC program called “Gardener’s Question Time”. But in fact his own garden was a neglected wilderness of weeds. Once, when the “Beeb” wanted to interview him in his own space, he did a deal with his neighbour, the Philosophy Professor, who happened to have a splendid garden. So, in all ignorance, they conducted the outside broadcast in the wrong place. No doubt they said very flattering things about his flowers and shrubs.


By Patrick Campbell

Sunday 16 August 2020, 01:30PM


But your garden reflects your personality in more subtle ways. For instance, my father adored roses and cultivated maybe 150 different varieties of hybrid tea rose. And he loved the smooth texture of a good fescue lawn. In fact, our lawn occupied about half the total area of the plot.

On the other hand, the kitchen garden was relegated out of sight to the backyard, hidden behind a trellis of rambler roses. It was, moreover, looked after by the odd-job man, who always complained he didn’t have enough space to grow what was needed. Dad loved eating fresh vegetables, but he found them short on aesthetic appeal. What does that say about him? That he loved beautiful things but was devoid of any practical sense. For him opera, books and flowers were prime pleasures; assuredly not anything as banal as sports. That was for “flannelled fools and muddied oafs”. Local fox hunting, and “unting” and according to 19th century John Surtees “all that’s worth living for”, brought forth a dismissive Oscar Wilde quote: “the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable”. Horse racing, the “Sport of Kings”, left him as cold as a cucumber in its winter frame. As for mending things: when his brother asked where the toolbox was, mother replied he might as well search for the crown jewels.

So what I wonder does my garden say about “yours truly”? Well, for a start there are no roses, and the thick-bladed Malaysia grass bears no resemblance to an English lawn. Why? Horses for courses. Both roses and fescue grasses dislike the heat and humidity of Phuket. Nor would my efforts find favour with Thai horticulturalists who love order: neatly pruned hedges of ixora, some elegant topiary or tonsai, graduated flower beds. Other gardeners enthuse over colour-coded borders where there are banks of orange marigolds, or where a careful mix of vibrant blooms complement each other. One advantage of using annuals or bedding plants is that once the flowering season is over, the plants can be removed and replaced with new varieties. A moveable feast. 

Personally I prefer woody shrubs; the staple of my own patch: they offer durability as well as vivid hues and interesting foliage. As a general rule, and apart from pruning, they need less attention, and will usually survive for a number of years in both xeric environments and monsoon conditions. Many – jasmine, jessamine, buddleia, gardenia, milkweed, plumeria, ylang ylang, tuberose, tabernaemontana and oleander – are also fragrant, especially at dawn and dusk. A huge bonus. 

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If you possess only a concrete patio or balcony, you can still achieve a living tapestry of colour and verdancy by the adroit use of containers. More work since pots dry out quickly, but nonetheless rewarding for those of us living in condos and apartments. 

There is nothing wrong with any of these ideas. What they all reflect is the desire to bring the personal element more into play, to control what would otherwise be, in the tropics, a rioting mass of springing vegetation. And it was a controlling idea behind the palatial formal gardens of 18th century Northern Europe, of Versailles and Blenheim.


“The Tropic Gardener”, an indispensable guide to plants and their cultivation in Thailand. Available from the author at drpaccampbell@gmail.com, from Seng Ho bookshop in Phuket Town or Delish in Rawai.

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