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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chiang Mai Secret - Dok Mai Garden

This week I spent an enjoyable afternoon touring Dok Mai Garden, south of Chiang Mai. As with so many of the best things in life, this is the result of following ones' bliss. Both Khun Ketsanee and her husband Eric, a botanist, are dedicated growers, nurturers, and thankfully, educators in that they want to share their knowledge and gardening experience, and have opened their project to the public for that purpose. Cultivated for barely three years now, it has some thriving specimens which show just how quickly things grow here in the tropics. Some of the plants are rare in Thailand, as exemplified by the one on the cover of their brochure: a citrus medica var. sarcodactylis, known as 'Buddha's Hand' and used in China as a special offering on altars. Evidently this plant has attracted the attention of local Thais, and many have visited the garden just to see this one plant. But there's so much more in their 24 rai, or 9 acre, garden: over 700 different plants, including 125 different vegetables and 90 species with edible fruits or nuts. One area is designed with special plants solely to attract butterflies; another area enclosed in black rods and 'guarded' by a menacing statue of a snarling lion contains only toxic plants, some of which are dangerous to even touch(!). I particularly liked their open-minded attitude about all living creatures, pests included, which entails using nature to fend off predators. Fertilizer is also natural, with much of it provided by a handsome pair of water buffalo. I saw many plants that I'd never seen before, such as that which supplies us with the wonderful white Thai peppercorns called 'phrik Thai' in their dried form; in their fresh form they are what the French refer to as 'poivre vert', or green peppercorns, and are also used in Thai cooking. I must get one now that I know what to look for! I was also pleasantly surprised to see several fruit-bearing cashew nut trees, from which I gleaned a souvenir to bring home to Robert to plant. There were many more surprises, but you'll just have to go and find your own!

Dok Mai Garden is open every day, but it is suggested that you call ahead and let them know you're coming. They have a website, and their phone number is 66/089/433-9045. A nice garden restaurant, and shop with botanical literature and fine crafts add to the experience.

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