The clerodendrum's growth rate is similar to that of a hormonal teenager. It can go through periods when nothing much happens, then without warning, an unexpected growth spurt can occur.


My bleeding heart

What is a bleeding heart exactly? To be honest, I didn’t really have a clue until I asked a few Americans. It does seem to me to be a bit of a silly expression; yet another phrase that our transatlantic cousins have created for no particular reason, not really knowing why. They do appear to refer to “bleeding heart liberals” a lot, though.

To me, any kind of Liberal (with a capital “L”) is a bloke in a tweed suit who is just unsure whether to go with the Tories or Labour, pounding the streets of sunny England doing his best to convince the populace to vote for him in the upcoming election; a kind of Monty Pythonesque character. Then again, I’m a Brit, so what do I know.

My dictionary defines someone with a bleeding heart as a “foolishly soft-hearted person, or somebody regarded as naively kind or sympathetic towards those who claim to be underprivileged or exploited”. I’m not sure what that means, and I’m not even sure if it’s a good thing or not.

A common theme is that bleeding heart liberals (BHLs) are generally political left-wingers who tend to be a bit subjective in their political views. These individuals are seen by some as a bit of a pain in American society, but on the other hand help balance out “crazy rednecks” (farmers, presumably) or “bureaucrat conservatives”.

They should be fairly easy to categorize and label, but given the complete confusion that seems to surround American politics, I’m really not sure that they are. It would appear that you can have forms of BHLs on both sides of the political fence, but being called one by the other side isn’t exactly complimentary.

I could have a rant here about “the nonsense that these bleeding heart liberals espouse” but then things get all intense, and people start accusing each other of all sorts of wrongdoings just because of their political view. Hang on a minute, I’m actually getting serious.

In that case, it’s time for the inevitable, gratuitous, unwarranted attack on Americans. Why on earth do they all think that we Brits are best mates with the queen, and why do they do their very best to imitate an “English” accent, only to suffer the fate of sounding exactly like Dick Van Dyke? Gratuitous attack over – sorry about that. Back to the bleeding hearts.

This is a gardening column after all, supposedly. It’s about gardening rather than political systems. How about the bleeding heart vine then? You must have seen this one coming from a long way off.

Its alternative names, the glorybower or clerodendrum, aren’t quite as interesting, and make about as much sense. Thais know this common vine as the mangkon-khaap-kaew. Before anyone writes to me to say that I’ve got the name completely wrong, which I probably have, I think it applies to the type of clerodendrum with small splashes of red that appear from the center of bright white flowers. The one in the picture is the red version of the same plant.

In both versions, the clerodendrum thomsoniae (the white one) and clerodendrum splendens (red), the flowers appear almost continuously in sprays, or calyces, about the size of a tennis ball.

The plant’s growth rate is similar to that of a hormonal teenager. It can go through periods when nothing much happens, then without warning, an unexpected growth spurt can occur. The rate of growth can be mental at times, sending out tendrils in all directions.

During periods when it seems that every day another inch has been added to the ever-extending reach of the shoots, like a teenager, they need a fair bit of pointing in the right direction. The method of dealing with them is to tie them to a trellis, nails in a wall, or something similar to give them a little assistance during that difficult time. Not the ideal solution for a 15-year-old perhaps.

The bleeding heart vine is happiest in dry conditions, and shouldn’t be over-watered. Ideally, the soil should be well-drained and rich in organic material. In Phuket, good drainage in the soil isn’t usually a problem, but the organic material side will probably need a little help. When planting it in the garden, make sure it’s surrounded by some of that compost you buy in those small white sacks from any garden center. That’s all it needs.

It will tolerate full sun with adequate moisture, but prefers partial shade. Like many plants in this part of the world, it will tolerate conditions that aren’t perfect, but will give you the plant equivalent of a cheesy grin if it’s treated well. They need protection from strong winds too.

Don’t worry if parts of the plant seem to give up the ghost at times. After blooming, it’s perfectly normal for that part of the plant to die back.

This is another one that can be propagated with cuttings. A few years ago, I was doing a little gardening after one or two polite beers. Well, perhaps more than one or two. Anyway, I was pruning away at a bleeding heart vine, cutting off those old tendrils that had long since shed their flowers and leaves.

One that looked a little bare at the base also deserved this treatment, until I pulled it away and realized that everything was very much alive further up the 6 foot stem. Normally a cutting of this size would be far too long to take root, as all the action was going on too far away from the cut end.

In my somewhat fuzzy state, I ignored this fact, and stuck it into the soil anyway, almost pretending that nobody would notice, and cracked open another beer. Far from withering and doing what my foolish act deserved, the cutting actually took root and eventually flourished as a whole new plant. These things are tough.

You can pick up a small bleeding heart vine at your local garden center for as little as 50 baht – not exactly the most expensive of garden purchases. Little effort is required to keep them going, and the plant can be kept in a pot or deposited in the garden.

It’s probably a bit on the cheap side for American politicians though. They’d rather spend a few million on flags, balloons and marching bands. Having said that, why couldn’t it become a symbol for some American politicians? If you think your political opponent is a “foolishly soft-hearted person”, send him a plant. That could work.



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