Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Garden tools. Ah…Hardly romantic, but, even at Christmas, likely to be appreciated by the hands-on horticulturalist.

At the risk of sounding sexist, more for the men in your life. A simple choice would be a pair of secateurs.

It doesn’t matter if the intended recipient has a pair – she can always keep another pair handy in the car. Think of all those opportunities you have had for snipping a twig or two from a roadside shrub or tree.

I have gone through five pairs since I came to Phuket – a reflection of both my own proclivities and of the tool’s variable quality. You can go for the anvil type or the much commoner bypass style, which operates like scissors. But remember the cheap ones are unlikely to stay the course. ‘Spring’ and get a sturdy bypass pair for 229 baht.

Oh, and speaking of cheap pressies, garden gloves with leather palms at 39 baht will take some beating. When recently cutting down a bougainvillea that had, characteristically, outgrown its surroundings, I ended up with plenty of scratches. Gloves would have helped.

Another stocking filler might come in the shape of a garden sprayer. You can use one with a simple trigger mechanism, but a better choice is a hand-pumped compression sprayer, usually holding a liter or two of liquid, which allows you to mix small amounts of chemicals, and thus avoid waste. It’s useful both for "misting" indoor plants and for applying pesticides. Available for 89 baht, it is, like the other items, on sale at Home Pro, Chalong, or as they tend to say, "at good stores everywhere."

In the tropics, one quickly realizes that pruning, trimming and cutting are the inevitable consequence of growing plants, especially woody ones, which take off like an express once they are established. And secateurs are only good for small branches. Anything over half an inch is likely to need something stronger.

Something more robust inevitably means something larger or more cumbrous. Not easy to gift-wrap. Loppers, for instance, are going to be two or three feet in length.

Nonetheless, they are an essential in the Phuket gardener’s armory: the long handles offer far more leverage than secateurs, and they have the additional merit of enabling you to cut among thorny branches without losing too much blood. Look for a shock-absorber below the pivot point. Prices range from 200 to 600 baht.

Hedge shears are better for rapid trimming of shrubs and hedges. Some have serrations or notches in one blade, which can hold thicker branches while you cut. For small areas of grass, go for a strimmer.

A bow saw will tackle those tasks that even shears or a lopper cannot manage. It’s a better choice than a conventional saw because it is less likely to get stuck during the cutting process, and has a blade which can easily be replaced for about 100 baht. Cost 250 baht and upwards, complete with disposable blade. All these tools will need some maintenance: the odd spray with WD 40 will inhibit rust.

If you want to offer a present that is less palpably destructive, think about small digging and planting tools. A trowel is always handy, both for transplanting seedlings and for removing weeds.

A longer handle may suit people who have difficulty in bending down. A small fork serves a similar function. Now available in hard-wearing plastic, the best ones are still made of stainless steel. Available for 77 baht. The same applies to long-handled spades, forks and rakes. The better the quality, the more likely the implement is to survive in a climate where the elements usually win.

The presents are getting bigger every year. And we haven’t even got to wheel-barrows and mowers…

Tip of week – Go nuts with coconuts
Most coconut palms (cocos nucifera) are too big for the average Phuket garden.

If you want a solitary but manageable variety, the foxtail palm (wodyetia), with its smooth trunk and neat, feathery fronds, is a better bet.

But coconut palms are readily available, cost next to nothing, grow easily and are ideal for larger acreages, or when planted to form an avenue of trees. Silhouetted against a Phuket sunset, they look magnificent.

There is another reason for growing them. I am not thinking of their value as a major food source, though Thai dishes rely heavily on coconut milk, or of the use of leaves for thatching, or even of the durable timber.

Rather, I am mindful of the environmental need to preserve their presence on an island where the depredations of the hispine beetle have already left gaunt, leafless trees in many coconut groves.

By planting coconuts, you will be helping to ensure their survival.

If you have a question or a garden that you would like featured, you can email the author here.

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– Patrick Campbell

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