I remember England,
I think. The image is a little bit hazy now, but
thereís probably no coincidence that ďhazyĒ
describes British weather perfectly. Itís grim. It
seems that every day the weather system produces
some variation of overcast.
Sorry, Iím exaggerating Ė I believe the sun did
actually make a guest appearance there in 1996.
Desperation for weather that even hints at being
pleasant is probably why the subject dominates
conversation in the UK:
ďItís turned out nice again.Ē (Itís less overcast
ďDo you think it will rain later?Ē
ďProbably, but it may brighten up after.Ē
(Desperation creeps in.)
ďNot so cold today, though.Ē (It hasnít risen
above freezing for weeks.)
ďNo, itís quite mild.Ē Etc.
Iím absolutely serious; these conversations are
the norm, and can sometimes go on for hours. There
are only so many ways you can comment on weather
thatís cold, wet and miserable.
An ex-colleague of mine, British, not
surprisingly, combined his predictable British
pessimism with a daily comment on the weather.
Bathed in glorious Thai sunshine as we climbed
into the tuk-tuk on the way to work, he would
deliver his daily weather observation: ďAt least
itís not ****ing rainingĒ. On the occasional
damper days, his first line as he folded his
umbrella was equally expected: ďItís ****ing
raining againĒ. He was from Middlesborough, if
that explains anything.
A British barbecue is something to behold. Itís
planned like a military operation, with a back-up
procedure in place to rescue the chicken legs and
sausages as soon as the first drops of rain are
detected. Everyone knows what to do. It hasnít
occurred to British garden planners to build some
kind of covered area; having said that Iím not
sure I would particularly want to be in the back
garden during a British downpour. England is a
country where you put your beer in the fridge to
warm it up.
Thatís where Thailand has got it right. It
sometimes rains here, but it really doesnít
matter, as youíre already probably under some sort
of cover and youíre hardly likely to freeze to
death. Even your beer is probably already in the
garden in one of those ice-filled chests that
people borrow from fish sellers.
Itís all rather civilized. So how do you plan the
garden in which youíll be spending so many of your
leisure hours? Gardens and outdoor living areas
are often things that are just thrown together. We
often think it does the job if itís reasonably
pleasant-looking, but why not make it functional
as well as aesthetically pleasing?
It might as well be designed to fit the needs of a
family or whoever is likely to be using it.
Whether itís for football and French cricket for
the kids, or for the more Ďpassiveí type of
recreational activities that most adults tend to
enjoy, everyone should be able to make the most of
the outdoor environment.
Patios are the obvious things to kick off with.
Fundamentally, they should be big enough to be
useful. Whatís the point of a few uninviting
paving stones chucked on the ground behind the
house? Make it big enough to do what you want to
do on it, or donít bother. Table football or table
tennis? Cooking area or spare dining area?
Tiny patios just look a bit silly. On the other
hand, patios can be so huge that they take on the
coldness of the Tesco-Lotus carpark. Ideally, the
size of your patio should be in scale with the
size of your garden and house.
It may seem a bit obvious, but donít forget to
leave plenty of space to plant stuff. Wall-to-wall
concrete certainly gives you more area to host
parties for 50, but this is Phuket, so you might
as well make the most of the natural beauty. It
doesnít necessarily have to be exposed soil Ė
potted plants will do the job equally well, and
you can even move them around if you get bored.
Elsewhere in the garden, itís worth considering
where to create flower beds and features, too.
Attempting a sedate game of croquet isnít ideal
while attempting to dodge rockeries and ponds. Do
you really want to set up your kidsí trampoline
over your ixoras? Sounds quite painful, come to
think of it.
Trees are always good as a source of natural
shade. Even better, put them near the house to
provide shade for the house itself, as well as the
outdoors area. You can even group trees together
if you canít be bothered with all that growing and
maturing business. Avoid trees with big fruit Ė
unless you plan to eat the product Ė or anything
that has flowers or seeds that will mean constant
cleaning up after it.
Smaller plants are another important factor in
outdoor living areas. Interesting stuff with a
variety of looks and shapes will liven up the view
as you munch on your freshly-cooked burger. Plenty
of different colors, forms and textures are
desirable; not just flowers, but different foliage
Masses of flowering annuals in the patio area are
dead easy to get going, and given the huge choice
of annuals here in Phuket, we really have no
excuse not to make it spectacular.
One thing to bear in mind when choosing plants:
make sure that the spot you have in mind for the
plant back home in your garden is similar to where
you found it in the local garden center.
Open to the sun, or in the shade? Directly under a
sprinkler, or in a far corner? Close to the ground
or cascading from a shelf or basket?
Thatís what I like about gardening in this country
Ė thereís always someone around who really knows
what theyíre doing, and you donít even need to
ask. Just copy him. Or her.
But donít go mad and try to fill every last square
inch straight away. Bear in mind the rate at which
everything grows here. A mish-mash of entangled,
confused greenery six months down the line isnít
areas donít need to be a giant expanse of cement.
When trudging round the garden centers to resolve
this, then eventually up to your elbows in muck
planting your purchases, console yourself with the
fact that you could be doing this in deepest,
darkest England, or anywhere else cold, wet and
miserable. At least itís not ****ing raining.
Actually, I really donít care if it is. Hand me a
trowel and a beer, please.