Yellow alder


The alder we get, the better we were: The baan chao is a determined breeder.


Idling among the alders

Iím all for the easy life. Some would even call me idle. Anything that involves physical effort is just a little too much. Iíve never quite understood why people would ever want to do more work than they needed to.

I have to admit that Iím a bit of a gadget man; anything to pander to my idle side and make life a little bit easier. Electric toothbrushes are superb Ė they even do a decent job when you come home from the pub a little the worse for wear.

I even came across a battery-operated, remote-control drink caddy recently. How much better can it get than a machine that brings your beer to you? The downside is that you have to be in a pool (itís inflatable, and only works on water), and someone else has to take the beer out of the fridge and put it in the caddy. Hopefully the second version will have wheels and a fridge-door-opening-and-take-beer-out-of-fridge attachment.

Casting my mind back to my childhood, I recall that eating an ice cream cone was often a sticky, messy affair. It was made far more sticky and messy if I didnít remember to turn the cone on time, and lick the other side, as it were. Tropical heat introduces equally perilous ice cream hazards, which is where the automated ice cream turner comes in. All you have to do is lick.

Sorry for sounding like one of those cheesy infomercials, but thereís more. Those electric fly swatter things that look like cheap little tennis rackets are brilliant. Rather that having to expend hundreds of kilojoules of energy by wafting a daft little plastic swatter around trying to bring about the demise of one irritating mosquito, wave this thing in the air and just wait for it to come to you.

Why would you want to bother swatting at bugs when you can electrocute them? That ďzapĒ noise is particularly satisfying, and you can put the saved energy to much more sensible use by lifting a beer to your mouth.

Then thereís the body drier. Sopping towels and elbow cramps could be a thing of the past with the ceiling-mounted, remote-controlled body dryer Ė this has to be the future of unbridled idleness.

Some gadgets I donít understand, though. The Segway is a good example. Itís basically a pair of wheels with a handle, which you stand on and it moves. I just donít get it. Am I supposed to believe that standing up, balancing and pushing a big handle is going to be easier than walking? Iíd far rather get on a motorcycle; at least I can sit down while traveling from A to B.

A popular dining experience in Asia involves going to a restaurant, telling a waitress what raw ingredients take your fancy, then putting them all in a big pot in the middle and doing the job yourself. Why?

Itís the same with gardening. There are those types around who like to make life as difficult for themselves as they possibly can. They choose the most fickle plants that require the most precise conditions and treatment.

Not me, given my relatively high score on the idleness chart. First, if itís an ugly plant, itís out. If it behaves like a grumpy old woman if it doesnít receive just the right amount of sympathy on demand then itís also a plant that wonít be in a Bert garden.

The best plants for me pretty much look after themselves. About the one concession I will make is watering. At least that doesnít require any expenditure of energy beyond pointing the hose in the right direction once a day.

One of my favorite self-sufficient plants is the yellow alder, or baan chao in Thai. Itís not the most spectacular plant in the world, but it really is perfect for the idle gardener, as water is all it needs. Other than that it will pretty much look after itself.

Its dark green foliage sets off the bright yellow flowers, which are produced on a daily basis. The blooms are normally 5 to 6 centimeters across and the compact, woody shrub can reach up to about a meter tall.

It can do several jobs in the garden. It does very well in mass plantings, as a border or hedge, or as ground cover. The yellow alder can become a bit straggly and leggy if it isnít pruned fairly regularly, but unlike many other plants it will bloom without pruning anyway.

The yellow alder seems to grow best in full sun. Its ability to withstand high temperatures means that itís perfectly suited to Phuket island life. Even the soil doesnít really matter. It will put up with most soil types, from sand to loam and clay. About the only request it will make is good drainage.

The yellow alder has got it all worked out. The bright yellow flowers only appear during the day, when the insects they attract (thereís one in the picture) can do their job. Thereís no point in staying open at night, so they donít bother. By early evening youíre unlikely to see a yellow alder with its flowers open Ė theyíre far more likely to have shriveled up to virtually nothing by that time of day.

According to the experts, the yellow alder is ďpropagated by seed, cuttings or divisionĒ. Here in Thailand, you really donít need to bother with any of those methods. Just leave it. Do absolutely nothing apart from giving it plenty of water.

In no time at all youíll have a number of smaller seedlings appearing nearby. I had one of these in a pot, and no nearby pot was safe from its desire to reproduce. Initially I just thought that it was an area of the garden that was especially prone to weeds, until I missed one of them for a couple of weeks and it turned out to be a brand new yellow alder. In other parts of the world they require careful nurturing and tender care Ė here they reproduce like hyperactive rabbits. Thereís no stopping them.

To get started though, youíll need some initial plants. Go down to your local garden center and ask for a few baan chao. This is certainly not the most expensive plant in the world; presumably the price is an indication of how ludicrously easy they are to grow. Believe it or not, a 30cm tall specimen will set you back the grand total of 10 baht.

Gardening with the minimum of effort that costs next to nothing financially either; how much better can it get? Time for another beer. Now whereís that remote control so I can summon up the electric beer trolleyÖ



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