I’m all for the underdog. The trouble
is underdogs don’t make it very often, which is why
I’ve got a soft spot for them.
Take football, for example. Probably one of the
best-known tournaments in the world is the FA Cup, in
England. I think they even let the Welsh in too.
Anyway, the eventual winners are fairly predictable –
it’s quite likely to be Liverpool, Man United,
Chelsea, Arsenal, or any of the usual crowd that hover
around the top of the Premier League.
Just about the only time I get excited in the
qualifying rounds that lead up to the FA Cup final is
when somebody you’ve never heard of beats one of the
big teams, causing their victims to become mightily
In 2001, Wycombe Wanderers defeated Premiership-side
Leicester City, and were only narrowly defeated in the
semi-final by Liverpool. Kidderminster Harriers were
the last non-league team to reach the fifth round of
the FA Cup, in 1994. They defeated Birmingham City and
Preston North End before eventually falling to
Premiership-side West Ham United. Keep them coming.
I remember back a few years when one of my local teams
in the UK, Harrogate Railway Athletic, reached the
second round of the FA Cup. They lost, obviously, but
it was fun. Not at all bad for a team whose ground
consists of a field next to a railway track. Their
total seating capacity is zero; it really is just a
I’m no boxing fan, but I couldn’t help cracking a
quiet smile of satisfaction in 1990 when boxer James
“Buster” Douglas, given odds of 42-to-1 by some
bookmakers, managed to topple the
previously-undefeated Mike Tyson – his first-ever
The plant world has its underdogs too. Weeds.
Gardeners can be a pretty zealous lot, often keen to
rip anything out of the ground that they haven’t put
there themselves. Any uninvited guest in the garden is
trespassing by default, and deserves death by
uprooting. No trial or jury, just instant justice.
Sometimes the merciless extraction of something
growing in a carefully tended flower bed seems a
little unjust to me. Perhaps taking just one look and
concluding whether or not a plant has a right to exist
in our gardens is a bit hasty; maybe the underdog
deserves a chance after all.
With this thought in mind, I tried an experiment some
time ago. I filled a large pot with potting compound
but planted nothing in it. I fed and watered this pot,
as I did everything else in the garden, but decided
not to take issue with anything that decided to grow
there of its own accord.
Admittedly, what appeared more often than not was that
rather annoying trailing grassy thing that grows an
inch a day, spreading everywhere; the one that serves
no other purpose but to irritate gardeners. Also, I
got a lot of those tall spindly weeds with tiny purple
flowers at the end that almost need wire cutters to
hack through, along with Thai-style “daisies” and
other assorted undesirables.
I should be able to go on at length with all sorts of
impressive sounding names for all these, but to be
honest, I haven’t a clue what any of them are called.
They were just weeds. They’ve all certainly done their
homework in terms of self-preservation, as it seems to
be very difficult to eradicate any of them.
But one of the results of this very unscientific
experiment was pleasantly surprising. A rather
attractive flowering plant eventually emerged, which,
following the conventional rules, would have been
dismissed as an “undesirable” in the initial stages.
The barleria cristata, or Philippine violet (ang-kaap
in Thai) is a small shrub, with twin-petaled flowers
on the end of a half-inch tube, in varying shades of
mauve. There are a couple of other varieties, one with
white flowers and another with a striped combination.
It just appears out of nowhere, its seeds presumably
spread on the wind.
Many gardeners intentionally plant barleria and use it
as a small hedge, or even clip it into strange
geometric shapes. It’s quite wiry and forgiving, and,
like many other varieties of plant life here, will put
up with a lot of abuse. About all it needs to thrive
is plenty of sun and some water every now and then. If
it’s pruned regularly, it will become a lot bushier.
Barleria plays its underdog character well. It shows
up looking a little sorry for itself, pretends it
isn’t really there at all and does its best to blend
into the background without you noticing. Before you
even realize it, barleria makes its home with you
long-term, having started out as something that wasn’t
even wanted – not unlike a soi dog that somehow seems
to become part of the furniture.
As a single plant, barleria is not really that
impressive. But put a few of these in the same patch
of the garden, and it won’t take long to develop into
something a lot more worthwhile.
If you’re not keen on waiting for a few barleria
plants to appear in your garden in their own good
time, another way of propagating more is by taking a
reasonably thick, healthy-looking cutting and sticking
it into some potting compost. It will take root
You can even buy them pre-grown at the local garden
center. A few baht will get you an underdog that’s
ready to go.
I'm thinking of packing a few of these in a box and
sending it to England, addressed to “The National
Team”. It really doesn’t matter which sport – it might
be the gentle hint that they all seem to need.