A Recent Trip To South East Asia


It’s funny how people expect you, as a horticulturalist, to know the names of every flowering plant in the world … all 250,000 of them!

Of course no horticulturalist does – we try to make do with our favourite/most useful bits of plant knowledge, rarely more than a few thousand species.

I was reminded of this on a recent trip to Hong Kong, Thailand and Laos. I met a charming Japanese woman, who had become interested in the medicinal qualities of plants, and she imagined that she could point at any tropical plant, and that I would know the medicinal uses of it! I pointed out that I knew very little about tropical plants, because I practised as a garden designer in the temperate region of England, and that such knowledge was, in any case, very specialised.

Which is not to say, of course, that I didn’t try to recognise the more popularly occurring plants in the region. I was delighted to learn that the ‘flowering orchid tree’ Bauhinia x blakeana, was a native of Hong Kong, and a visit to the Hong Kong History Museum revealed that it was named after Sir Henry Blake, a former governor of the then British colony.

Here is a lovely specimen in Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand. This is a remarkable town, just north of Bangkok, and a World Heritage Site because of its ancient monuments, many dating from the 14th century. But be warned - it is a very large archaeological site indeed! It is as if they had chopped Pompeii into 20 bits and scattered it all over Naples. But it is worth the effort to explore it; you get around by tuk tuk, which is an experience in itself.


I adore how this Buddha’s head has been engulfed by tree roots over the centuries.

I always love noting how in this part of the world, everyone tries to cultivate something ornamental – often only bonsai, when space is at a premium.


The picture above is a fisherman’s hut perched on stilts above a stream on Lantao Island, by Hong Kong. It is a wonderful old fishing village – here is another picture of it.

I spent Christmas in the old Laos capital of Luang Prabang – one of the most peaceful places you will find. It has many old temples, like the ones below.


And here are some stunning lotus flowers in full bloom at the charming hotel I stayed at – called ‘The Sanctuary’ – and it most certainly was!

I am always fascinated to see the tropical euphorbias when I am in this part of the world – with all those spines! – so unlike the ones we are used to here, but the flowers are the give-away that they are the same genus of plant.

And I can’t help including a couple of pictures of the waterfalls at Kuang Si – near Luang Prabang.


I got very excited when I thought I saw the giant fern Angiopteris evecta, to the left in the picture below. It is a remarkable plant, staying upright through sheer turgidity. But on closer inspection, it was something quite different, but I don’t know what!

Carlene Crowe
Open Learning Diploma Garden Design Tutor