I’m gently tying some twine around a hook on my hanging orchid plant, taking in the fiery orange glow of its petals and telling myself: this one must surely make it. After all, it clearly loves the Thai climate, it grew here, all it needs is bark and humidity to grow, there’s no soil to pollute, no overwatering. I can turn it from the sun or towards the sun.
I google orchid tending techniques, cut when it says I’m meant to cut, spritz and watch over my leafy companion.
And, like every other orchid I’ve ever tried to grow in this country, it eventually dies.
So do most of my succulents. Flowering plants repeatedly fall victim to a white spider mite that must lurk in the crevices of my balcony. It looks kind of innocuous, like delicate mould. I can control it when I’m at home, but as soon as we go away for a week or two it proliferates and strangles the life out of whatever poor specimen it has settled on.
With the ghosts of my failed horticulture projects hanging round my neck, I pace the streets, shopping malls, squalid toilets and airports of the city. And literally everywhere I look I’m astounded by the greenery. Orchids thrive in hotel lobbies and hanging above restaurant decking along fume throttled streets. There’s barely a shop doorway or noodle stall that doesn’t have some sort of leafy display. They look thriving and lovingly tended. Thais appear to be natural gardeners and I envy them immensely.
I’m sure none of it is as effortless as it seems, but I love the fact that Thais seem to value the presence of a bougainvillea or a blooming hibiscus, be it adorning a narrow pavement or a sleazy-looking massage parlour. It inspires me and I don’t give up on my efforts. Maybe they didn’t all start off as master-gardeners after all – plants are for sale everywhere, suggesting there’s a life-and-death cycle not restricted to my little balcony.
I stock up again. I move away from flowering plants (other than our crooked, stunted little bougainvillea). I move onto dracheas and succulents – and so far they’re doing quite alright thank you.
On clear, sunny days, I watch the fluttering of birds and the perilous leaps of squirrels in the lush garden next door and thank my luck for such views, and for the determination of the people in this city to hold on to their nuggets of eden among the sprawl.
I collect plant images from around Thailand which I’ve shared below.