Chiang Mai night flower market

Flowers play an important role in Thai life, both in the garden and in arrangements. A repertoire of ceremonially important flowers such as lotus, jasmine, champa, marigold, and everlasting are common in flower markets, often formed into garlands for altars, spirit houses and in honor of holidays. Roses, chrysanthemum, orchids are more are also common in bouquets and laid out on altars.

Pardon my absence this past week from Plantwise… I’ve been traveling in Thailand with a small troupe of garden and travel writers – part of a larger familiarization trip – courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

 

garlands

Garlands of crown flower (white), roses (pink), marigold (yellow) and more.

Our group of nine garden media members journeyed from points in Canada and the US to meet in Bangkok. We spent a total of five nights there in Thailand’s capital city; two nights in coastal Pattaya; and two nights in Chiang Mai up north. Chiang Mai is one of the best places to experience both the ceremonial and fun, festive sides of the Thai New Year or Songkran.

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Our group’s itinerary took us to many places of cultural, religious and culinary interest, as well as to garden-related sites. The gardens we visited were mostly on the magnificent end of the scale and included temple gardens, a pottery sculpture garden, several whimsical topiary gardens, tropical fruit orchards, medicinal herb gardens, an orchid garden and more.

 

Another Bangkok street

Many busy Bangkok streets are lined with potted plants, looked after by the shop keepers inside.

I’ll detail some of the more magnificent gardens we visited in the Bangkok, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai areas in the coming weeks – if you are fond of plants and gardening, Thailand is an enthralling country to visit.

But I was as enchanted by the small-scale domestic horticultural and floral artistry I saw as I was by the grand garden schemes. And my interest was barely sated in just nine days – there was so much to see and we barely scratched the surface. I’m sensing a return trip in my future!

 

champa flowers for sale

This sparkly child was selling champa flowers by the side of the road. These flowers, from tropical Magnolia champaca, will fill a room with sweet fragrance and are used in ceremonial garlands. I would have wished he could have been in school instead of selling flowers by the side of the road.

Flowers are simply everywhere in Thailand – pots and planters line public streets; domestic terraces are festooned with a filigree of plants and flowers; and every ceremonial spot, whether altar or spirit house or temple entryway is decorated with flowers or potted plants. There’s an appreciation for small, beautiful gestures in Thailand.

 

outside a Pattaya area bathroom

A roadside rest stop had a lovely “vertical garden” display, with ferns and small shade-loving plants suspended on the wall. Pretty – and so au courant!

Thais love to eat and while there are a lot of fruit trees growing around people’s homes, I didn’t see a lot of home vegetable and fruit cultivation going on in people’s back gardens. Most home gardening seems to revolve around ornamental plants. Of course, I didn’t have much time to explore during this nine-day whirlwind tour – I could only peer over fences and stare at people’s balcony plantings as we drove past. But my sense is that most urban and town-dwelling Thais just buy their fresh fruit and veges at the markets instead of purposefully growing their own, as many North Americans are now trying to do. Produce seems pretty affordable at the markets, and the selection of fresh produce is astounding by US standards.

 

Thai toilets!

A quick stop to the ’loo in the police station in Chiang Mai revealed heretofore unseen decorative practices… as I said, you can find plants everywhere in Thailand!

In contrast to North America, there seem to be few undecorated outdoor spaces seen in Thailand. Between the lush tropical climate and the region’s rich tradition of decorative arts, it seems every void or vacuum in the garden or home is soon filled with lush plant life, whether it’s a fern sprouting from a crack, a pot planted with vines or an altar festooned with flowers.

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