Orchids of Thailand – Insect and Orchid Farms

This post is about the second half of the cultural excursions on my first day in Thailand.  🙂

Sunday 13th March 

Insect Farm

We returned to Chiang Mai where we got a quick bite to eat in a local restaurant then set off in the minibus again to an insect then an orchid farm, both on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. The insect farm had a huge array of dead butterflies, beetles, spiders, etcetera displayed in glass cabinets.


Me with a new friend!

The real joy was seeing live butterflies floating round a small enclosed garden and handling stick insects, iguanas, beetle larvae and a scorpion! The latter had had its sting removed so was safe to handle.


Handling a scorpion

Orchid Farm

We spent an hour there then moved onto the orchid farm. It was a display nursery only, it doesn’t sell stock to the public. It was a sea of colour, there were vandas in every colour imaginable covering two areas of the garden (as well as the odd Cattleya). I’m not a particularly huge fan of this genera, they’re a tad too garish for my liking but I couldn’t help but be impressed with the display.


Vanda display

I found some smaller species mixed in with the real showy ones which was more to my taste! As well as the orchids there was also several beautiful orchid trees, Bauhinia, in flower – this was the first time I had seen them in bloom; it was a memorable moment as I had always wanted to see this species flowering.


Vanda close-up


Bauhinia sp.

Torch gingers (Etlingera elatior), Heliconia, various palms and bamboos were all in the tropical planting too. I bought some excellent souvenirs from the orchid farms’shop, earrings and some scarves, which were all orchid related of course!


Etlingera elatior

The drive to and from our days’ destinations were almost as interesting as the destinations themselves; I loved witnessing massive red and pink Bougainvillea en masse along the roadsides, as prolific as brambles are back home in the UK. Frangipani (Plumeria) trees were also aplenty, it was the first time I had seen them growing outside in a tropical climate.


Cattleya close-up

We met with Peter on our return to the hotel in the evening, who explained we would be doing a short trek tomorrow near the famous mountain an hours drive away. Our first day of hunting orchids in the wild – I couldn’t wait!


Orchids of Thailand – Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

This post is about the first few days I spent in Thailand, in diary format. Enjoy! 🙂

Saturday 12th March

I arrived in Chiang Mai safely, if a little behind schedule – 45 minutes late. I was greeted by Peter’s girlfriend, Ping, as Peter himself wasn’t very well. I also met one of the other tour members, Phil, who also arrived on a late flight – we were the last ones to arrive.


View of Chiang Mai from the Duangtawan Hotel

We got a taxi to the Duangtawan Hotel and met Peter briefly who explained about the activities which would be happening tomorrow – a visit to a temple and orchid farm. I face planted the bed as soon as I entered my room – jet lagged after a long journey!

Sunday 13th March

Weather: Sunny, 39 °C

Our first day got off to a casual start, as Peter explained he always makes the first few days more relaxed as everyone is usually tired from travelling. Once we are more accustomed to the weather and time difference the more serious treks into the jungle begin.

For the first week as there are so many of us – 40 in total – Peter is splitting us into groups, so the people from the Singapore botanical orchid society are in one group and we, individuals from all over the world, are in the second group. We all do the same activities in the day, just separately.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

The morning was spent at the most popular temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep; it is Chiang Mai’s most important and visible landmark. A local guide, Ning, showed us round and told us about the history of the temple then left us for an hour to explore on our own.


Me in Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

The monastery was established in 1383 by King Keu Naone to enshrine a piece of bone, said to be from the shoulder of the historical Buddha. The bone shard was brought to Lanna by a wandering monk from Sukhothai and it broke into two pieces at the base of the mountain, with one piece being enshrined at Wat Suan Dok.

The second fragment was mounted onto a sacred white elephant who wandered the jungle until it died, in the process selecting the spot where the monastery was later founded.

The 306 step staircase is flanked by mosaic serpents; the climb is intended to help devotees accrue Buddhist merit, but less energetic pilgrims can take a funicular-style lift! The terrace at the top of the steps displays a statue of the white elephant that carried the Buddha relic to its current resting place.


One of the pagodas

The temple had an impressive ornate golden pagoda which contained holy Buddha relics, it was a very striking piece of architecture; it was literally gleaming in the bright sunlight.

It felt very strange being able to take photos in a sacred place of worship with people praying, Ning said it was absolutely fine and expected from tourists to do so. Even though I knew it was ok it still felt wrong using my camera!

There are supposedly glorious views of the city of Chiang Mai from the temple compound but the view was hidden underneath a haze of forest fire smoke. It’s a good excuse to return again!


Buddhas inside the temple

I enjoyed looking round my first Thai temple yet I got just as excited by the Ficus trees which were covered in jackfruits as I did looking round the temple! The fruits of Artocarpus heterophylla were bigger than my head, it was an obligatory selfie moment!

I also saw a cannonball tree, Couroupita guianensis, which was displaying its distinctive large round fruits. Things really hotted up when we spotted Dendrobium capillipes flowering on another tree in the temple compound as well as D. polyanthum and D. lindleyi on other trees by the staircase leading up to the temple.



They were high up in the trees but a German member was well prepared and had binoculars with him – it was sensational seeing my first orchids on the trip, even though they weren’t technically in the wild!

Orchids of Thailand

In March I went to Thailand for a couple of weeks to see orchids growing in their natural habitat. It was an absolutely mind-blowing trip, I would go back there tomorrow if I could.

This is the first of a series of posts about my Thai adventures; below are a few paragraphs about the tour itself, if you would like to know more details please visit the tour organisers’ website:


Orchids of Thailand

The aim of the Orchids of Thailand tour is to take tour members to a range of different orchid habitats and enable them to actually see orchids growing in their natural wild state, at a time when many of the plants are in flower. This makes it possible to compare the climatic conditions and observe the different orchid species growing in each habitat.

The organiser, leader and guide for the whole tour is Peter Williams, who owns a nursery in Thailand and runs all aspects of Mae Tang Orchids. He has lived in Thailand since 1990, prior to this he was the manager of a large garden centre in England. Peter spends around four months a year in the UK, promoting the orchid tours and selling his orchids. The rest of the year he is in Thailand, supervising the growing of orchids at his nursery and undertaking exploratory trips to various wild habitats.

During the tour there are several treks into special orchid-rich areas that Peter has discovered over several years. These treks are exclusive to the tour as the areas visited are in remote places, which are not promoted. This is why the orchid flora is so great, as in the well known trails around national parks the orchids within reach have been removed by the locals to sell.


The first orchid I saw growing in the wild – Dendrobium infundibulum

For this reason Peter is also accompanied by local guides, who live and work in the forests and have a wealth of knowledge; they know the areas visited like the back of their hands. As the guides are regulars on Peter’s tour they know exactly what needs to be found and often know of new orchid-rich areas they have discovered since the previous years tour.

Whilst on the tour there is also the opportunity to visit orchid farms, local plant markets, botanical gardens and some of the many cultural attractions of northern Thailand. This enables tour members to not only witness the truly spectacular orchid flora but also to become completely immersed in the surrounding culture, gaining a rounded experience on a personal as well as a botanical level.

The tour is aimed to coincide with the end of the cold season and start of the hot season which is when a large number of orchids stimulated by the rise in temperature after winter dormancy start to flower – hence this is the best time of year to see a wide range of different orchid species in flower.

PGG Study Tour of the Algarve – Cork Oak

This is another post about the time I spent in Portugal earlier this year. To read the first post in this series please click here.

Rosie took us on a magical mystery tour to visit some cork oak (Quercus suber) forests. We had the use of a car for the week to enable us to get around, I was driving that day and was finding it impossible not to get distracted by the gorgeous scenery and plants en route. We didn’t crash however, we all survived in one piece!

Hills of cork oak trees

Hills of cork oak trees


Me with one of the trees, photo by John GouldWe darted off the main road and followed a dirt track until we reached a copse of cork oak, which was recovering slowly from being burnt. Rosie told us some firemen in Portugal will actually start forest fires so they can earn extra money in the overtime they work, putting out the fires. The fires they start always get out of hand and burn up the surrounding vegetation as well as the trees, hence the cork oak and eucalyptus end up getting pretty much destroyed.

The cork oak is harvested in July/August, the cork is treated to remove fungus and graded before being used. The main trunk is stripped, which happens every 7 to 9 years. The year it was stripped is painted on the outside so any harvesters know when the cork was last taken.

Trees with harvesting numbers visible

Cork oak trees with harvesting numbers visible

A cork oak tree badly burnt

Cork oak tree badly burntThey are pruned to a goblet structure, which is the ideal shape to make removing the cork easier. In Portugal you need a licence to harvest the cork, only skilled people are allowed to do it who are employed by professional companies – it’s a big business.

It was weird seeing trees with their bark half stripped and numbers painted on them, it looked strangely artificial in the natural surroundings. The redder the bare trunk then the more recently it had been stripped, usually September/October time is best for seeing them harvested.

Close-up of the bark

Close up of a cork oak tree

Close-up of the barkOn the way back to Quinta da Figueirinha we passed a field of yellow lupins (Lupinus luteus) which was just stunning. They were gleaming golden in the sunlight, it was like seeing fields of buttercups back home in the UK – the perfect end to a perfect day.

Seeing tree after tree of cork oak was a real highlight of the Algarve trip for me. I remember seeing a cork oak tree for the first time in the Mediterranean Biome at the Eden Project three years ago. The structure and texture of it caught my imagination immediately and I vowed then to see them one day in their natural habitat. To have achieved one of my early dreams in horticulture was a special moment, one I will never forget.

Close-up of Lupinus luteus

Close up of lupins, Lupinus luteus

Me with the lupins

Me with the lupins, photo by Rosie Peddle


PGG Study Tour of the Algarve – Marilyn’s Alvor Garden

This is another post about the time I spent in Portugal earlier this year. To read the first post in this series please click here.

We visited several very different gardens during our time in the Algarve. Both Rosie and Marilyn wanted to show us the diversity in designing gardens for a Mediterranean climate, primarily with the waterwise garden theme in mind.

Perennial planting

Another view of the perennial planting

Close-up of an ornamental grass

Close-up of one of the grassesThe second garden we visited with Marilyn was in Alvor, Portimão. It was larger than the previous one and felt more cohesive as a whole to me. Marilyn explained that when the new owners of the property moved in they quickly realised that the 350 square metre lawn wasn’t making sense, financially or aesthetically. After researching Mediterranean garden styles, they opted for a naturalistic gravel garden, thickly planted with herbs, perennials and grasses.

I liked the symmetrical clumps of perennials with swathes of grasses weaving through. The mixture of different heights, colours and textures gave it a dynamic, but not overpowering, appearance. It was a clever way of manipulating the space, seemingly creating a cascading topography within a flat area.

Close-ups of the perennial planting

Clump of perennial planting

Echium candicans

Echium candicansOnce the grass was weed-killed and ploughed into the soil, a 5cm dressing of gravel was laid on top, leaving a blank canvas on which to lay out the plants. The plants were watered fortnightly through the first summer and now not at all.

It was a year since Marilyn had finished planting it, the rich loamy soil has supported extraordinary growth in the first year. The plants looked so well established it was like they had been there for years.

Lavandula stoechas

Lavandula stoechas

Another view of the garden

View of the gardenThe combination of Echium candicans with Euphorbia rigida and Salvia ‘Royal Bumble’ was striking, the red against the lime-greeney yellow was a winner. A Grevillea robusta was present, also known as the silky oak. It’s the largest species in the genus, it was a fantastic specimen in the garden.

A plant I hadn’t seen before which was used in the repeat planting was Ballota pseudodictamnus, in the Lamiaceae family. It had aromatic, white hairy leaves with small pink flowers in whorls toward the stem tips. The foliage worked well as a contrast amongst the rest of the colourful planting.

The garden again

Another view of the garden

Euphorbia myrsinites

Euphorbia myrsinitesI didn’t know the herb Sideritis cypria was used as tea in Greece, Marilyn said it has a strong citrus flavour. I was tempted to take some home and try it! An interesting climber was Stephanotis floribunda. It had white jasmine-like flowers and is common as a houseplant in the UK. Two species of honeysuckle were climbing alongside it (Lonicera japonica and L. implexa), the fragrance was overwhelming.

Stones and pebbles were used to cover the ground near the lower growing plants such as Euphorbia myrsinites as a nod to a little rockery.

Ground-cover planting

Groundcover planting

Ornamental grasses

GrassesIt was great being able to see a couple of the gardens Marilyn had designed, especially after seeing one of her presentations earlier in the week.

Plants noted:

  • Ballota pseudodictamnus
  • Dodonaea viscosa
  • Echium candicans
  • Euphorbia myrsinites
  • Euphorbia rigida
  • Grevillea robusta
  • Jasminum polyanthum
  • Lavandula stoechas
  • Lonicera implexa
  • Lonicera japonica
  • Salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss’
  • Salvia ‘Royal Bumble’
  • Salvia x jamensis
  • Sideritis cypria
  • Stephanotis floribunda
  • Strelitzia reginae
  • Yucca gigantea


PGG Study Tour of the Algarve – Marilyn’s Carvoeiro Garden

This is another post about the time I spent in Portugal earlier this year. To read the first post in this series please click here.

We visited several very different gardens during our time in the Algarve. Both Rosie and Marilyn wanted to show us the diversity in designing gardens for a Mediterranean climate, primarily with the waterwise garden theme in mind.

The rockery

View of the rockery

The rockeryWe spent the day visiting two gardens which had been Marilyn’s projects this time last year. The first one was in Carvoeiro, Lagoa, a garden nestled into the hillside. Marilyn had basically redesigned the whole garden as the previous planting wasn’t suited to the climate or overall conditions.

Both rockeries were original, Marilyn had altered the structure of both so more soil could be incorporated and to generally make them less “currant bun” like. More appropriate plants were chosen, I liked the variety of succulents and cacti used which provided great colour and texture. Echeveria setosa had wonderfully furry leaves with orange flowers, a very cute specimen! Portulacaria afra var. prostrata was similar to Crassula, a popular succulent for bonsai. This variety is a particularly low growing form.

Echeveria setosa

Echeveria setosa

View from the garden

View from the gardenWhat used to be a long strip of lawn is now a Mediterranean walk with a mixture of grasses, herbs and colourful herbaceous perennials. A weed proof membrane was laid underneath the gravel area before planting, to help keep maintenance down.

The popular hybrid cistus Cistus x purpureus (a cross between C. ladanifer and C. crispus) was used, another cistus I hadn’t heard of before was Cistus x skanbergii, a dwarf rockrose with pale pink flowers.

The Mediterranean walk

Mediterranean walk

Cistus x skanbergii

Cistus x skanbergiiThe clump planting of Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Boule’ was very effective, it sprawled across the gravel like an octopus! The fragrance was heavenly too. Syzygium paniculatum is a dense bushy rainforest tree which is used for hedging not just in Marilyn’s gardens but in quite a few gardens in the Algarve.

It was a year since Marilyn had finished planted it, I was surprised to hear no fertiliser was used prior to planting, only slight mycorrhizal fungi. Everything had established incredibly quickly and was obviously thriving.

Euphorbia rigida

Euphorbia rigida

Succulents growing along the wall

Succulents along the wallThe plants were given deep watering by hose occasionally through the first two summers, now there is no need for watering. The owners are happy as they are no longer spending small fortunes on irrigation!

The owners have recently purchased the land next door which Marilyn is taking on as a new project in September (2015). She’s hoping to turn it into a garden with a large wildflower meadow and native perennial planting.

Marilyn’s new project

The land next door, Marilyn's new project

Cyperus papyrus

Cyperus papyrus

Plants noted:

  • Aloe ferox
  • Chamaerops humilis
  • Cistus x purpureus
  • Cistus x skanbergii
  • Convolvulus cneorum
  • Cyperus papyrus
  • Echeveria setosa
  • Euphorbia rigida
  • Euphorbia characias
  • Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
  • Jacaranda mimosifolia
  • Phormium tenax
  • Portulacaria afra var. prostrata
  • Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Boule’
  • Salvia x clevelandii ‘Allen Chickering’
  • Syzygium paniculatum
  • Trachycarpus fortunei
  • Yucca gigantea


PGG Study Tour of the Algarve – Ria Formosa

This is another post about the time I spent in Portugal earlier this year. To read the first post in this series please click here.

After Rosie let us see her garden she then took us to see a famous salt marsh plant community,  Ria Formosa, which was classified as a Natural Park in 1987. It encompasses an area of about 45,000 acres and is protected from the sea by five barrier-islands and two peninsulas. It extends from Anção, near Almancil, eastwards as far as Vila Real de Santo Antonio – covering some 60 kilometres of the eastern Algarve Coast.

View of the salt marshes

View of the salt marshes

Bridge across the salt marshes

Bridge over the salt marshes

Beautiful poolThe Ria Formosa Natural Park is one of the most amazing places of the Algarve, not only for its variety of landscapes but also because of its unique location. Recently elected as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal, it is a unique coastal lagoon which is constantly changing due to the continuous movement of winds, currents and tides.

Due to these natural features and its geographical location it was included in the list of wetlands of world-wide interest defined by the Ramsar Convention. It’s considered an Important Bird Area (IBA) and is part of the Natura 2000 Network.

Tamarix africana

Tamarix africana


Close-up of Tamarix africanaThe difference in variety of flora compared to other places we had visited was huge. I loved the huge Tamarix africana swaying in the sea breeze, it looked like sticks of candyfloss! The combination of Vicia sativa growing alongside Lupinus micranthus gave a beautiful effect spreading across the ground.

A plant which was hard to spot was Dipcadi serotinum, the brown bluebell. Its rust-coloured flowers camouflage seamlessly with the surrounding vegetation, a total contrast to the purple bluebells in the UK.

Faro docks in the distance

Faro docks in the distance

Pinus sylvestris

Pinus sylvestris

One of the sand trails

One of the sand trailsArmeria pungens with Lavandula stoechas subsp. stoechas was another marriage made in heaven. An interesting plant we came across was x Halimiocistus sahucii which are hybrids between Cistus and Halimium.

Euphorbia terracina is commonly found on open coastal habitats, a hairless euphorbia with umbels of green bracts. The shape of the stone pines, Pinus pinea, was a superb backdrop against the sandy trails and blue skies.

Lavandula stoechas subsp. stoechas

Lavandula stoechas subsp. stoechas

Pinus pinea

Pinus pineaSpartium junceum, the Spanish broom, were covered in vivid yellow flowers. This is similar to Genista hirsuta but has no spines.

Having a taste of plant life on the coast whetted our appetites for our planned visit to Cape St. Vincent at the end of the week – watch this space. . .

Lupinus micranthus

Lupinus micranthus


Close-up of Lupinus micranthus

Plants noted:

  • Anagallis monelli
  • Armeria pungens
  • Arthrocnemum perenne
  • Astragalus tragacantha subsp. vicentinus
  • Atriplex halimus
  • Carpobrotus edulis
  • Dipcadi serotinum
  • Euphorbia terracina
  • x Halimiocistus sahucii
  • Lavandula stoechas subsp. stoechas
  • Limoniastrum monopetalum
  • Lupinus micranthus
  • Matthiola parviflora
  • Muscari comosum
  • Narcissus bulbocodium
  • Ophrys bombyliflora
  • Paronychia argentea
  • Pinus pinea
  • Pinus sylvestris
  • Retama monosperma
  • Salicornia europaea
  • Scilla monophyllos
  • Silene littorea
  • Spartium junceum
  • Tamarix africana
  • Vicia sativa