It has been quite a break in new stories for the blog but I am back for a while. It’s not that I haven’t been writing because I’ve been very consistent in keeping up to date on my Facebook page. There are still plenty of small stories to share and it is just that for the last few months I have been doing it in a different forum. I have found that on a day to day basis Facebook generally meets my continued enthusiasm to write about my life in Thailand and I don’t have the need to duplicate that by posting the same stories on the blog. I also find that I get consistent feedback from readers on Facebook, which provides motivation, while here it is rare for to receive any comment even when people use the FREE resources on offer. So many Thai blogs I visit are cluttered with ads and pop-ups but mine isn’t and never will be and I meet the costs of keeping the site open. The only courtesy I ask is that occasionally if you have found the site helpful you put fingers to keyboard and say so.

To those of you who do stay in touch, it is always a pleasure to hear from you. I have met so many people both virtually and in person as a result of the blog and shared such a range of personal situations  and I guess the enjoyment of that contact is what has brought me back. In particular a recent unannounced visitor from Lithgow, Australia, who made a special trip to see me and went to extraordinary efforts to locate my home just to let me know how much he appreciated the blog. Col you are the inspiration for this post and the ones to follow. Thank you mate.

Enough of that and onto the topic:

The land we bought in Si Bun Ruang November 2013 to eventually build a house, was half of a roughly 2,000 sq mtr piece of land owned by two cousins, Jan and Bun. They bought the original land from a lady in the village and had it registered as two Chanote titles, the best proof of ownership and boundary location you can get. Jan had a couple of kids who wanted to go to university so the costs involved with that pushed her to sell to us and you can read about our purchase HERE.

This was our land before we started to clear and build in November 2013 looking from back to front.

Just after we moved in – March 2015.

The same view today less than three years later.

In a funny coincidence it was almost the fourth anniversary of the original purchase that we agreed to purchase the other half from Bun. Her husband decided to sell a taxi in Bangkok and return to work the family farm instead. The debt on the taxi required the land to be sold and so it was unified under one owner yet again after seven years. We don’t need more land but with a total lack of planning standards, which can work both for and against you, I wanted to ensure we didn’t have the uncertainty of a possible new development next door especially as I designed our house to have living areas opening in that direction in the hope that one day the land would be ours. These are some photos at time of sale.

The Eastmead/Vansutha estate extension. That “shed” is being removed by the current owner and being relocated on their farm. The land has already been raised with imported soil so it flows at the same height as our land, which was raised a metre. It also has has power and a bore/well.

It was great news for us as the sale has been on the cards for 12 months so to have it a reality was special and a relief. It also meant that I could let Gaun, my garden crazy wife, loose on another jungle to turn into a tropical wonderland in no time. She had almost finished planting out the farm, which turned into her second garden, so this will give her something to do and me things to report on as the garden develops.

Looking towards our land – see our hedge?

From the back looking to front. It’s a challenge. The good thing is that there are lots of very well established trees on the boundaries of the block so we “only” have to fill in the middle.

The reverse. That house in the distance is on the next block at the back.

After seeing the beautiful Jim Thompson house in Bangkok recently I am aiming to replicate the more tropical feeling gardens that surrounded his home. Our current garden has a lot of bulk planting and hedges, which is more western – beautiful but not 100% tropical.

I want these sort of paths one can wander around and broadleaf planting with a palm canopy like this.

Paved paths would be great but expensive.

If I could wave a magic wand…………..Jim Thompson garden again.

Our entrance on the right and the new land goes to the other side of that large mango tree on the left. You can see the old wall, which will be replaced. That’s Duk Dik, the world’s scruffiest dog and family pet.

That wall will be extended across the front of the new land when the budget allows.

And will end up looking like this I hope. All Gaun’s hard work looking magnificent. If you look to the top of our mango trees you will see that they are flowering. Very early this year.

The following are extracts taken from the chronological events written as they happened:

19 December 2017

Well one week later than planned, due to delays at the bank, settlement on our new land happened today. I have dealt with Thai government bureaucracy on just about the full range of options for a westerner and have mostly found them to be pretty efficient as long as you do your research and bring the right paperwork. Today was no exception and the transfer of land to Gaun and my name took less than an hour. Stamp duty was 4,500 baht or A$180.00 so I can still eat (and drink!).

Westerners can never own land in Thailand (some Australians might feel that should apply with us too in regard to foreigners) so Gaun is the formal owner. I was expecting and was totally happy that she have the deeds in her name only but the land title people knew she was married and called me in to jointly sign all documents. The land has therefore been registered in both our names, which means that Gaun has to get my release if she ever wanted to sell.

I was a happy man not because of the land purchase but because I could FINALLY pop the plastic cork on the bottle of bubbly I had been saving for this occasion!

Before the settlement today I set up this new sitting area with furniture bought from HomePro (for locals only) in Udon Thani yesterday.

I live by a retirement philosophy that you can never have too many areas to just sit and contemplate life with a coffee or something stronger and this gives me yet another option. My mother passed on a saying she borrowed from someone else, which recommends we all “sit in the shade of a little less to do” and if you haven’t incorporated that into your retirement plans then maybe you should 🙂 I certainly have.

Late afternoon we have taken possession and are comfortably set up on OUR land with the finest fruit flavoured bubbly money can buy.

Gaun rugged up but in a stylish way.

We have a lot of old bamboo on the land and with evening temperatures well under 20 a fire seemed to be a good idea.

It was only after it was lit I realised the oddity of a lovely warm fire crackling away in front of a jackfruit tree, which is only seen in the tropics!

I know it is ecologically bad but is there anything that comes close to being warmed by an open fire? Gaun suggested we needed roasted sweet potatoes and I wanted marshmallows for dessert! There are a few more cool days forecast so that could well be an option.

Yuan joined us on the way home from her day for selling vegetables at the markets. I would so miss this sort of informal involvement with my Thai family if I lived somewhere other than here in Isaan.

You might note that we have moved from bubbly to beer, which sums up my current lifestyle – champagne tastes on a beer budget (and U beer too, which is 2/3rds the cost of Leo – for locals again)

20 December 2017

With the land next door now officially ours it was a priority today to upgrade the front fence to stop chickens, dogs and the occasion kid from wandering onto it from the road. I was originally thinking of getting a wall built straight away but have decided to wait for that and instead get all of the layout inside sorted first.

The main reason to upgrade the front fence is so that we can cut through the hedge on our existing land and get direct access to the new area without having to go out the front gate and back in the entrance next door. Stopping livestock from getting through our defences (now breached by opening up the hedge and barbed wire and chick proof fence) and into our current garden was a must.

I have also started to plan the new garden for those of you interested in that sort of thing.

It was 9 degrees when I made an appearance outside at 8:00 am with coffee.

Gaun had already been up for a couple of hours so it must have even cooler then and this is reflected by her blimp appearance caused by SIX layers of clothing.

This is not a photo of Gaun but of where we are cutting into the new land.

That golden palm behind Gaun has to be relocated and the hedge and fence behind it removed. As always when renovating or upgrading gardens you take a perfectly decent area and destroy it before hopefully ending up with the desired result.

This was a mess before we bought the land but now it looks a lot tidier since we put up the new fence today plus cleared out overgrown bushes and weeds.That entrance length swings open to allow for deliveries. We have a tractor booked Saturday to clear the land of years of neglect, which I can’t wait to happen.

On a side issue Gaun still had the energy to dig out this edible root from under one part of the side fence. You can see Gaun’s hat behind (attached to Gaun) and the root in front. It was huge.

There is no greater joy than an Isaan person finding free food!

A purple yam.

A very nice tropical area ruined in an afternoon 🙁

That palm is ready to move and the hedge has been removed as well as the fence. You can see why we needed to ensure animals couldn’t get onto the new land because they could just wander through this gap. In a true relaxed Thai fashion that wire you might be able to see lying on the ground between the two posts is my fibre optic broadband cable!!!!

And the final result looking the other way. Not to worry because there is a plan! Remember this photo when reading the words about the new pergola area (second slide to come).

And this is it.

Our existing land matches this and sits on the left – off plan. The total size is 44 x 52 metres. The entrance to the new space from our current garden, the area we have just opened up today, is that pink path coming in from the left halfway down the block. It will lead into a central paved pergola area from where several paths will radiate out into the rest of the garden. These won’t be straight as shown (the downside of working in Excel) but curvy and won’t necessarily be where shown on this plan. I will set them out with gravel first and we will live with them for a while to see if the location works before doing something more permanent.
The land will be split into four distinct areas each with its own character. (1) is my woodworking area with converted rice storage hut, (2) will be a grove of yellow flowering trees called Dok Khun (Golden Rain Tree) the national flower of Thailand representing Thai royalty (3) will be a massed bougainvillea plantation and (4) palms and tropical plants.

The bits in between will be treed and the paths will wander through tropical ferns and palms. Shady, cool and lush is what I am after with surprise destinations at the end of each path.

A more detailed plan of the central pergola area.

A path from the existing outdoor living area will take you under trees into a covered pergola 3×3 metres to start and then opening into a 6×6 metre area. This whole pergola will have flowering climbers to give colour and shade. There will be a paved area underneath the larger space with table and chairs. The paving will be surrounded by low growing tropical plants of the type I have shown you in previous recent posts. The end of the pergola will be a 6 metre wide wall with two traditional Thai house timber windows set in to give glimpses through to the other side. A water feature will sit in front of the wall.

The concept is that when sitting in the living area outside our house (the view from the last photo in this set) you will look down this passageway of greenery and rather than it just merging into more plants at the end it will have a solid “stop” but still with hints of the continuing garden beyond. All to have night time lighting.

This section has priority and will be done once we get New Year partying out of the way and the builders return to work. I look forward to sharing progress.

December 22 2017

There’s nothing like waking up to the sound of a tractor engine at work! Khan, the guy who does all the heavy duty work at the farm turned up early to clear the land next door. Gota love machines. This job would have taken us a week or more but all finished in a bit over an hour. Cost – 600 baht (A$24.00). We can now get the full view of the land, which will help with planning what goes where. The locals will be totally mystified that we are neither building nor planting crops – what a total waste in their minds 

Khan getting deep into the trees to clear years of undergrowth.

Or house is on the far right. This is looking to the back of the land.

Brand new technology. Does the job.

The back half cleared. We are very lucky to have lots of mature trees planted around the edge of the land. It is far more developed that way than our current block was, which only had a coconut palm and two mangoes. The new land has many mango trees, longan, custard apple, ginger, galangal, coconut, jackfruit, kafia lime that I recognise.

This is the opening in our current fence.

The plan I showed you in the last post with the pergola and wall starts just beyond Gaun and heads out into the middle of that area you can see in the sunlight. Sitting in this lounge area you will look down a pathway covered by the pergola ending at the wall with waterfeature, which I think will look stunning.

Before…….

After. Now the hard work starts.

2 January 2018

These two pots will be moved to the new garden area and stained a weathered brick red. 500 baht for both (A$20.00). The expensive bit will be getting them professionally moved – maybe around the same amount each.

Some of our new plants and 10 cubic metres of gravel to lay out the paths

The draft layout of the paths starting to take shape. One of those large pots will go in the middle of that circle.

5 January 2018

Work has started on the new block of land next door or more accurately things have been gathered for work to start.

Today we had five truckloads of soil delivered for two bougainvillea flower display areas, plus all the materials for the two pergolas, construction starting tomorrow. More plants are eagerly waiting to get into the ground and we hope to move the two large water pots into place next week. 50 palms and screen plants will be on order for delivery next week.

A large new pump was purchased to provide high pressure water to the new area, enough for sprinklers. The plan for the garden has changed slightly but I won’t bore you with that this time but illustrate what it will look like as it takes shape.

Nice quality soil being dug next to the community garden area on the way to the family farm.

Why they are building a moat between the road and the garden plots is a mystery. You can see the soil gets a bit gravelly lower down but we scored the topsoil mostly.

The first delivery. Five truckloads plus a tractor to push it all into place for around $40.00.

The young bloke driving the tractor.

The boss. I just liked the scene..

I thought I was over all of this sort of construction activity and could just sit back and enjoy it. Never say never.

While the tractor worked at one end of the land two trucks turned up to deliver 250 concrete blocks, 8 precast columns, concrete, steel for the pergolas and sand.

Enough to build a 6 x 6 metre and 3 x 3 metre pergola plus a 6 metre feature wall.

As soon the tractor left Gaun was in there doing some micro levelling.

This is solid clay and a real devil to get into shape. Gaun’s mama popped over to see all the excitement. Gaun asked her if she wanted to help but she said that she had just come to watch 🙂

Antique timber windows bought from Thai Watsadu (a local DIY store).

I would have liked to buy the real thing but finding any that haven’t been almost destroyed by termites and are for sale is a challenge. At this stage of life I have given up being too obsessive – it’s too tiring 
These examples are getting their second coat of anti-termite stain and will be placed in the wall that’s being built as part of the pergola. We met my brother-in-law Lud after purchasing them and he just laughed when told of their purpose. To spend 1,200 baht on something that has no real value in the Isaan view of things is seen as hilarious. In fact the whole exercise of turning a perfectly good piece of potential farming land into a non-productive garden probably has the whole village shaking their heads.

Our collection of new plants on standby.

The soil roughly in place at the end, the pergola starting where that beer bottle is (I had to consume the contents to free it up for this photo) and a fire to celebrate what feels like the kick-off of turning this space into something amazing.

6 January 2018

Today was supposed to be all about building but Ming wasn’t able to get his team together so we moved to plan B. It ended up being perfect because I wasn’t happy with the location of our soil mounds put in place yesterday, so Gaun organised another tractor to make the necessary adjustments for a picky farang.

Khan. the tractor guy, then did a proper job leveling the land, which was my other slight annoyance. If the builders were here working on the pergolas we couldn’t have achieved perfection! With the soil now in the correct position Gaun was able to do her thing and plant three palms, moved from elsewhere in our garden, and get the new bougainvilleas in place on their mounds. The layout of the garden at this end of the land is coming together quickly, which is pleasing. Hopefully Ming and his guys turn up tomorrow.

Yet more machinery in action. Khan spent an hour working and only charged me $12.00. A beer bonus was paid!

The bougainvillea soil mounds now moved into final placement and the land being levelled.

Most of these Isaan tractor drivers do a great job levelling soil by eye.

A very tidy end result.

Gaun working on replanting her three palms.

The large fan palms we bought recently will be planted in front of these and one of the water pots will be located at that stake behind the plastic basin, demonstrating where a future water feature will sit. The little piles of gravel either side of that basin will be golden palms, which will create a corridor of greenery to the big palms at the end. A hedge will hide the bougainvillea mounds until you enter that part of the garden.

Gaun planting bougainvillea. This is clay soil so you get this messy clumping look in the dry season. Come the rain the clay almost melts away and becomes a consistent look.

New golden palms on the left and the bougainvilleas planted out.

They will provide a massive cascade of colour in this corner within 18 months.The hedge will enclose this area on the right. The stake and gravel in the middle is where the large water pot will go. This whole area will be gravelled.

Both bougainvillea mounds almost completed. We only have three of the sixteen hedging plants (on the right) but you get the idea. They will go left and right and the only open area will be in the centre between those two stakes.

8 January 2018

I love the ingenuity of Isaan people (when it works). How do you get a new structure centered to a specific point in an existing building? Well I would have done something complicated involving calculations with triangles but Ming my builder just tied string to a table in our outside living area, followed the grout line of our tiling into the land giving him a central point from which all other measurements could happen. So quick and easy.

The tiling in the photo will be extended 8 x 8 tiles and the grout line where the pink shoes are is the centre point of the new tiling plus the pergola.

10 January 2018

The second of our new garden areas is starting to take shape this time at the front of the block. A previous post showed you the bougainvillea mounds at the back of the land. This area It will end up a treed area using what the Thais call Dok Khun or Golden Shower trees. These are fast growing and are covered with brilliant hanging yellow flowers in April coinciding with the festival of Songkran – Thai New Year. The concept for this area in the garden follows the principal I want for much of the new space. A high canopy providing shade and then lots of tropical themed plants at ground level creating interesting cool green paths inviting you to explore and discover.

These are Dok Khun trees growing in the older part of our garden. Amazingly they are only a bit over two years old but are already 10 metres tall with thick trucks – the joy of tropical growth. It’s this sort of forest feel I want to create in the new area.

Dok Khun in flower. They take a couple of years to get going but are worth the wait. A national flower of Thailand.

15 Dok Khun trees bought for $8.00 being planted in this corner of the land.

Gaun doing what Gaun loves most (next to eating). Boundless energy for anything to do with the garden.

Step one is to lay out the path in gravel and then this gives the template for the planting. The path will wander through what will soon become a small forest.

Just to give you a reference point for this area to the main central pergola currently being constructed. The house and existing garden on the right. The bougainvillea mounds in the far distance.

Day 2 – Gaun knew of someone in the village who would exchange 300 baht ($12.00) for this load of plants. Picked up this morning.

In Australia these would cost at least $12.00 each. There must be fifty or more in this pile.

Gaun has now planted up the other side of the path and it’s not even lunchtime.

Not bad for a day and a half. A blank wilderness turned into a small oasis of green and lush potential.

The front half of the garden will all look something along these lines in time.

12 January 2018

We have had builders working the last five days creating a large pergola area, which will form the central point in the new garden. The idea was to make an interesting avenue into the new land from our existing outside living area, a shady place to sit and a focus from where the rest of the garden radiates. It took five days and was finished yesterday. I am pleased with the end result, which will achieve all of these design goals once we get it planted up. Give it two years and you won’t recognise it.

DAY 1: I never thought we’d have builders back but here they are establishing levels.

Eight concrete support posts being dug in by hand. Compacted, dry clay – like concrete.

And Gaun doing her own digging elsewhere. I had worked out that we needed to buy 43 large plants to get the landscaping started and here she is digging the holes even before we got delivery (they arrived today).

DAY 3: Columns up and most of the steelwork in place. Footings poured for the wall.

The view from the house. a 3 x 3 metre pergola entrance and then the main 6 x 6 metre structure.

An extension to our existing living area paving to have it flow into the new land.

DAY 4: The walls go up. Two windows included to add interest and confuse the locals.

Windows in.

I wanted the view from the house to have a end point rather than just flow into the garden at the back. This wall will also give extra privacy to our outside lounge room not that we really need it. The block next to ours on this side is vacant.

End of Day 4.

DAY 5: Rendering.

With oxide colour. This was an experiment and I am still seeing how I feel about the concept. I like the sort of Tuscan look (one of my favourite places) but we will see.

DAY 6: Builders paid and gone YAY! Four builders, five days 10,000 baht ($400.00) and two bottles of Isaan whiskey. Today our very healthy looking order of plants arrived. Golden palms and hedging shrubs.

Also four beautiful climbers, which will cover a lot of the pergola. In Thai this is called Puang Sap (phonetic translation) and I think it is Pyrostegia venusta, also commonly known as flame-vine or orange trumpet-vine. They flower in the cool season (now).

A builder’s leftover space. I wanted some of those plants to cover that crooked fence and also some ugly shacks in this corner. Before……

And after. I guarantee that in two years this will be a wall of lush greenery. a backing of golden palms, which will be 5 metres high by then matched by front hedging shrubs, which have the same growth rate.

The shrubs straight ahead will form a hedge to hide the bougainvillea part of the garden. A doorway will be cut into that space between the two shrubs once they fill out. A path comes through here once I get shovelling gravel.

A timber stand with a beautiful pot will form the central point on the wall.

I hope to buy six pots in Chiang Mai (600 km from us) when we drive there later this month. All the non gravel areas will be a mass of planting very soon. Gravel to be replaced with paving as funds become available. Floodlit at night once finished. Palms flow out from the wall on either side so in time it won’t look so isolated.

A paved area will sit under the pergola (gravel starting to mark it out).

A double row of golden palms leads to one of the large water pots (still waiting for delivery) that will be placed right at the back. A water feature will go halfway down the corridor of palms. A high hedge will form a backdrop at the end of the palm corridor and hide the bougainvillea mounds from the pergola area. I want it to be a surprise for people wandering the garden. Facia boards to be added to the pergola to give it more bulk.

Another path added on the other side once again a doorway in time passing through a new hedge.

I am not always behind the camera! I do some hands on stuff too although Gaun leaves me well behind.

The result so far before the new plants arrived. Once landscaped I think it will look terrific.

End of day G&T. It has got cool again dropping to 12 degrees tonight. Good working weather.

15 January 2018

We continue to expand the greenery outwards from our existing garden into the new land. I have been shovelling gravel while Gaun has been digging into what looks like concrete to plant out all the plants we have sourced. Three big donations from villagers (exchanged for whisky money) have saved us a heap of money even by the standards of cheap Thai plant prices.

The idea is to break the 1,000 sq metres of land into bite sized areas with paths. We then fill in the beds once plants become available.

This photo taken in the garden of Jim Thompson’s House Bangkok, is my template for the new space.

My current version of Jim’s ideas here – a nighttime view of our existing outside living area.

Looking back to the house from the newly planted path leading to the wall behind me that you have seen before.

What we started with a bit over a month ago (settled 6 Dec 2017).

And today.

We had water brought onto the land yesterday.

A high powered pump drawing on our bore/well water and six taps spread around the garden. Enough pressure to run sprinklers from all the taps if we want. I don’t want Gaun spending two hours a day and more hand watering as she did to establish the original garden. We spent time in Global House today (a DIY homeware place) looking at the cost of fixed sprinklers. Very reasonable so I think we’ll cover the whole garden with them. I will report back on design and costs.

Gaun’s idea is to add a hand wash basin on the way into the outside living area from the new garden.

We visited a local farm this morning with Yuan and Lud and I spotted this piece of hardwood, which when cleaned up will make a lovely pedestal for the basin. $4.00 was exchanged and it was loaded up on Lud’s ute.

I have roughly stripped back a sample and you can see the beautiful old hardwood timber underneath. Some of the old timbers lying around in farmyards here makes you weep for the lost potential in handcrafted furniture.

This is the wash basin area Gaun built and landscaped at the farm. She’s going for the same “rustic character look” again.

20 January 2018

A few updated garden photos taken this morning for my plant enthusiast friends. For those of you who aren’t into that sort of thing move along Masses of new plants added thanks to local markets and nurseries. For the cost of ten plants in Australia I am getting a ute-load. To develop a garden like this one back “home” I would have to take out another mortgage!

The main disappointment is that we still haven’t come up with someone to move the large waterpots, which will provide several focus points. As always when we didn’t need them they were around in the village looking for business. Now that we do………..

Still the equivalent of a garden builder’s site but it does start to give a bit of a feel for what it will become.

That path going nowhere is waiting for one of those waterpots to arrive so that it will have a destination at some stage.

We are so lucky to have lots of developed trees already in place. Our original land only had one coconut tree and two mangos and nothing else.

The seating area and the path leading to it will be paved once we get back from our trip to Chiang Mai next week. The planting in that vacant area at the back is on standby because there’s a water pot that has to be brought in through that space.

The two little lily water features with backing mound was entirely Gaun’s idea. Work in progress but I love that she has developed the confidence to have her own ideas and make them happen.

21 January 2018

Even for gardening enthusiasts I realise that you can get too many photos of stages that are important to me but of limited interest to others. Today we almost finished the central seating area by installing a green shade cloth, which will stay in place until the climbers grow and planting up the garden beds. I couldn’t be happier with the way it is looking.

Obviously these will be a lot more happening with the push to get most of the plants in ready to a growth spurt come the wet season in a few month’s time. The large water pots are due to be moved in the next couple of days as well as things like paving, new paths etc. I will keep you up to date from time to time as the garden develops over the next couple of years and beyond.

Thanks for reading.