Updated 6 July 2016:

I have just published a 750 page eBook that follows the challenges, frustrations and successes of building a house in Thailand from the very start of us buying the land through to moving in and beyond. You will be part of our building team for every day of construction and I will share many do’s and don’ts all designed to save you time, money, sleepless nights or all three. This book is a must have as part of your research on the subject of building in Thailand and you can find it HERE.


This is a bit of a specialised post for those people interested in how the garden at our new home in Si Bun Ruang, Isaan is looking after a few months of occupation. I might publish these updates from time to time as much for my benefit in following progress as anyone else’s.

The photo above gives you some idea of what we started with late March 2015 when we first moved into the house. We had planted up some shrubs around the edge of the property in the form of golden palms, to shade the house from the sun in time and over 2,000 small hedging plants, but most of the land was a building site. I am sure some of you have been in the same situation, a lovely new house but a scene outside like a disaster movie!

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2 April – Looking from the house to the new front wall , which is in the process of being built in this photo.

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Looking back the other way. The carport has only just been finished and the gravel driveway put down.

The design of the garden didn’t take a lot of thinking, after all it is only a 1,000 m2 piece of land of which the house takes up 260 m2. However there were some basic elements I wanted to achieve. The gate was an open structure and I wanted to protect the large windows at the front of the house from the street. I wanted a couple of areas of lawn because grass is a quick way to cover up dirt and would give a softer and cooler look to the garden. It would also help hold the soil in place where the immediate house site, which was higher than the rest of the land for reasons which are explained HERE,  sloped down to the rest of the front garden.

Paths were needed from the carport to the front door and to the rear of the property and also from the sala hut under the front mango trees, shown in the first photo above, and the small entry gate, pictured to the immediate left of the sala in the same photo. Finally I wanted a small diversion path around the coconut palm so that we didn’t just have a collection of square plots divided by straight paths.

Filling in what was created by this design was left to my wife Gaun, who is one of the most enthusiastic gardens I have ever met. She is most unusual for a Thai lady in that she is happy to plant out for show and not just to eat and I will show you what I mean as we go along.

The view from the front windows when we started.

The view from the front windows when we started.

The same view now.

The same view now 3 months later.

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19 April – Gaun started from the house and worked out so there are some new plants in the foreground. Here you can see that the builder’s shed and concrete mixer are still in place but the rest of the land has been cleared ready to lay the grass.

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This is clay soil and like concrete to prepare. Watering softens it but it then turns into something resembling crewing gum and sticks to everything. Trying to make a flat surface for the grass was a nightmare.

I wanted to get a couple of loads of topsoil in to make things easier but there wasn’t any available. The grass was ordered at this stage at a cost of 28 THB a square meter or A$0.85. We neede 80 m2 and it cost us under $100.00.

The pond area leading to the front door is looking quite respectable.

The pond area leading to the front door is looking quite respectable.

The following photo gives you some idea of the slight slope from the house to the lower part of the garden. It doesn’t look much but in the wet season you want to have everything not level covered otherwise the water run-off will quickly create channels. The stacked iron is the dismantled builder’s shed.  Gaun got up early that morning and took the shed down. I woke up to a job completed. This is no Thai HiSo (high society) woman thank God worried about breaking her nails but a real do’er and Gaun is never as motivated as when working in her garden.

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The shed gone.

Just to prove I do wake up and do things sometimes.

21 April – Just to prove I do wake up and do things sometimes.

Grass here is very different from what I’m used to in Australia. There the grass comes in rolls with a thick layer of soil attached to help get things going. Here, maybe because good soil is at a premium, the grass is all you get and it comes in these little rectangles. It is like a sheet of paper and you can almost float it to the ground! I was very sceptical about its ability to grow given that the clay soil it was going on was pretty ordinary quality to my eyes. I was expecting to have to replace sections and even re-do the entire area once we could find some decent soil to import.

The first section done and being watered.

The first section done and being watered. Gaun working on the bigger area in front of the sala.

Two things of interest in the photo above. One is the use of a sprinkler, something that will stop traffic here and second the fact we have the water supply and pumps to allow us to water in this way.

The village recently ran out of water when the community bore went dry so it is a necessity to have a backup supply. Also no pumps can be connected directly to the supply otherwise you’d stop all water downstream. Watering a garden, if it is done at all , is by hand. The family next to us use their land as a small farm. The village water trickles into a tank all day and then the family distribute it using watering cans! They must think we are crazy to use water for a show garden rather than produce things to eat and sell.

22 April - Gaun starts work on the larger section.

22 April – Gaun starts work on the larger section.

You can see in this photo just how uneven the ground is. It is the best we could do given the clumpy nature of the soil. I thought there was no way the grass would grow with all those air gaps.

Making progress.

Making progress. You get an idea here of how thin the layers of grass are.

A quick cover-up.

A quick cover-up.

We were on a roll at this stage so the gravel was wheelbarrowed in to form the paths I wrote about earlier.

The the end of the day. Looking like a garden.

The the end of the day. Looking like a garden. Gaun has even found time and energy to start planting around the palm.

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The outside lounge area at dusk.

The outside lounge area at dusk overlooking the pond and garden.

One of the wonderful aspects of Thailand for garden lovers is the cost of plants. Starting plants, and these can be a reasonable size if you pick carefully, can be bought for 2.5/3.0 THB or A$0.10 – $0.12. Larger versions will cost maybe 35 THB and large shrubs can be bought for 150 -250 THB. The tree you see in the middle of the lawn was bought for 700 THB or $28.00. A trip to a nursery outside Udon Thani with my brother-in-law’s pickup got us over 500 plants for around $100.00.

24 April - our new garden to be.

24 April – our new garden to be.

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From left to right. A$6.00, $0.20, $0.12 x3 and $1.40.

Nothing you see in any of the following photos has been planted by me! Not through laziness (true!) but while the house was my project the garden is totally Gaun’s. The plant selection and where they went is entirely her work. She was influenced in her plantings by the gardens we had seen in places like Chiang Mai and Rai where mass shrubs were a feature.

A little larger than our place but you get the idea. This is at Doi Tung a royal palace North of Chiang Rai

A little larger than our place but you get the idea. This is at Doi Tung a royal palace North of Chiang Rai, which you can read about HERE.

Sit and dig.

Sit and dig.

In her element.

In her element. Have you noticed the Thais smile with their teeth, whether they have them or not, while we westerners smile only with our lips?

Looking good. Thanks Gaun.

Looking good. Thanks Gaun.

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This view gets better every day.

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8 May - Guna starts work to fill in this area behind the front wall next to the sala.

8 May – Guna starts work to fill in this area behind the front wall next to the sala.

12 July - quite a change.

12 July – that same area today – quite a change.

Reinforcements.

Reinforcements.

Our new stainless steel gate.

Our new stainless steel gate.

If you remember one of my goals for the garden was to stop this view through to the house from the front road. You can see that the left side has been planted up with bougainvillea and the right with shrubs that will cut out the view to the lounge room windows.

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From inside looking out.

TODAY

I will now take you on a quick photo tour around the garden as it is today, although each day things change as Gaun finds a little space to plant up with cuttings or plants given by neighbours or pinched from the family home.

I have to say that this has been a labour of love by Gaun. Not only has she done all the hard work but because we haven’t had any rain except for a couple of downpours since November, she waters everything by hand for a couple of hours a day. We are supposed to be entering the wet season but there’s very little sign of it so far in Isaan. Once the rains do come Gaun tells me that everything goes wild and we will see quick progress in establishing the garden.

A daily commitment.

A daily commitment.

Worth a photo because this was I think only the third good day of rain in seven months here. Not what you'd expect in Thailand is it.

Worth a photo because this was I think only the third good day of rain in seven months here. Not what you’d expect of Thailand is it.

The grass made it much to my surprise.

The grass made it much to my surprise.

Very suburban. I try to do this job on a Sunday just for the memories :-)

Very suburban. I try to do this job on a Sunday just for the memories 🙂

One of my favourite views.

One of my favourite views just keeps on improving as things get established.

A riot of colour from this bougainvillea.

A riot of colour from this bougainvillea.

Lotus flower and this lovely pot.

Lotus flower and this lovely pot.

Barney the turtle off for a dip.

Barney the turtle off for a dip in the pond.

Front to back.

Front to back.

The centre area around the coconut tree fully planted up.

The centre area around the coconut tree fully planted up. That mass planting of colour are all cuttings originally borrowed from neighbours and replanted.

These never stop flowering. Note the concrete mushrooms!

These never stop flowering. Note the concrete mushrooms!

The sala is set up with electricity, a fan and wifi.

The sala is set up with electricity, a fan and wifi. Those hanging plants came with us from Chiang Mai along with a number of the bougainvilleas.

The smallest rice paddy in Isaan.

The smallest rice paddy in Isaan – that vivid green area. Harvesting won’t take too long. You can see that the small hedging plants on the right are beginning to take off. They will be two meters high and hide that fence in two years or less.

This hedge is only about five months old.

This hedge is only about five months old and is well established. This bit is almost to the top of the fence already. A new mango tree on the right.

The fence line that hasn’t been planted with golden palms have had mangos and longan trees planted to provide shade, privacy and fruit.

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We built three of these pergolas made from local eucalyptus. I like the really rough look rather than doing it with concrete posts and steel beams.

These have climbers planted and will form a tunnel of colour once established.

These have climbers planted and will form a tunnel of colour once established.

The wide pergola over the entrance.

The wide pergola spanning the entrance. Pots have been added to the right of the driveway to add colour.

This one spans the front gate on the inside and has these magnificent yellow flowers already making progress.

These magnificent yellow flowers already making progress.

The left of the house is starting to fill in and look less stark.

This side of the house is starting to fill in and look less stark. Our bedroom door on the left. Lotus pots help break the expanse of gravel. Under the pergola will be paved and a small chair and table set bought in time. The bougainvilleas will be trained up the columns and will eventually cover the pergola .

The back of the house which is our utility area hasn't been spared form Gaun's attention. Pot plants everywhere and more.

The back of the house, which is our utility area, hasn’t been spared form Gaun’s attention. Pot plants everywhere and more. Leftover AAC blocks waiting for the carport extension to be built shortly.

Minow or lime trees. Essential for Mojito cocktails.

Manaw or lime trees. Essential for Mojito cocktails.

In Australia you keep an eye out for spiders when gardening, here it is scorpions.

In Australia you keep an eye out for spiders when gardening, here it is scorpions.

Take the tail off and they are harmless. Those claws aren't as strong as they look so I am told! This guy had already lost one.

Take the tail off and they are harmless. Those claws aren’t as strong as they look so I am told! This guy had already lost one.

The mass plantings next to our outside dining area. Hedging plants on the fence line, pappaya next, golden palms and then these dense shrubs. The land next to us is vacant and I want to ensure privacy if they ever build on it.

The mass plantings next to our outside dining area. Hedging plants on the fence line, pappaya next, golden palms and then these dense shrubs. The land next to us is vacant and I want to ensure privacy if they ever build on it.

The front is looking very smart these days. A pleasure to return to.

The front is looking very smart these days. A pleasure to return to. Postbox and all.

From carport to front door. These gravel paths will be replaced by pavers at some stage to make barefoot wandering possible.

From carport to front door. These gravel paths will be replaced by pavers at some stage to make barefoot wandering possible.

This tao or turtle has been a great addition to the garden. He will meet you when you visit.

This tao or turtle has been a great addition to the garden. He will meet you when you visit.

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From the outside lounge area looking to one of our neighbour’s land – a block I would love to buy if it becomes available. Gaun will run out of things to do otherwise!

The fenced turtle area at the end of the pond and the grassed private garden behind the carport.

The fenced turtle area at the end of the pond and the grassed private garden behind the carport.

Although we don’t have a formal produce plot there are lots of edible treats scattered throughout the garden as you’d expect in Isaan. Chilli, Thai basil, lemongrass and other herbs as well as limes, bananas, mangoes, longan and pappaya. When cooking Gaun will disappear and arrive back with something to add to the dish that she has just picked from the garden. Combine this with the fresh vegetables we get from the family farm picked in the morning it adds up to some simple but great flavours.

Looking at the progression of these photos it is hard to believe that so much has been achieved in a three and a half months. It is a beautiful testament not only to Gaun’s hard work but to the fertility of this rough Isaan clay soil, regular watering and a constantly warm/hot climate. It will be a joy to watch the garden develop into a beautiful oasis of greenery and shade.

Until next time thanks for reading.