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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
We were on a roll at this stage so the gravel was wheelbarrowed in to form the paths I wrote about earlier.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The fence line that hasn’t been planted with golden palms have had mangos and longan trees planted to provide shade, privacy and fruit.
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.