Brief history of gardening, part 2


SEQUELS: There used to be only about 10 varieties of heliconia. Hybridization has produced hundreds of new varieties.


A Brief History of Gardening 2:
The Beer strikes back

I’m not a fan of sequels. They’re always a disappointment. You’ll remember Jaws – that mid-1970s blockbuster that scared us all half to death. Especially when that head dropped into view behind the porthole in that sunken boat… Anyway, the film was superb, and went on to make millions.

Then somebody thought that Jaws 2 would be a good idea. In the rush to try to cash in on an already successful idea, however, the filmmakers failed to remember that the film still had to be good. Unfortunately, it was terrible.

The big rubber shark they made for the second film by now looked a bit silly, and we’d probably become bored with that plastic fin approaching unsuspecting beach goers. We probably only looked forward to them being eaten to liven things up a bit. Hardly the response the producers had in mind.

Generally, all “part twos” fall into the same category – and parts three, four and five, come to that. How many times was Rocky going to have to crawl out of the gutter and train himself up to become world champion? He did it once, fine, but once we knew the underdog was going to win at the end, it all got a bit boring.

Sensing that the world cinema-going population is becoming swamped with way too many over-hyped and under-achieving movie sequels, over the past few years Hollywood studios have been trying to distinguish their numerous part twos, threes and fours by giving them catchy subtitles.

It seems that the days of obligatory add-on digits such as Rambo 1-15 are long gone. In recent years we’ve seen Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, American Pie 3: The Wedding and Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde. My personal favorite (movie title that is – the film was awful) is Scary Movie 3: Episode I – Lord of the Brooms.

I will admit that the title Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me is a lot more interesting than Austin Powers 2, but what’s even more fascinating is how the title got past the censors in the first place, given its somewhat lascivious origins. In fact, I wonder if this paragraph will even make it into the pages of the Gazette. We shall see.

Book sequels somehow get away with it, and I really don’t know why. There have been numerous lawyer/detective/crime/thriller-type books recently that almost defy logic with regard to how many times the same characters appear in one book after the next – they’re all very readable, somehow. Or maybe I’m just easily entertained.

Those who got as far as this page in the Gazette last week, nestled in just before the classifieds, may have caught a glimpse of A Brief History of Gardening. If Tom Clancy can get away with it, then I see no reason why I shouldn’t continue where I left off last week.

It’s now a week of beer later, but I vaguely remember chuntering on about explorers in centuries gone by moving plants from one part of the world to another. Some of them even had plants named in their honor; the vainer types probably named these plants after themselves.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the French explorer, Louis Antoine de Bougainville was one of the first to come across the incredibly widespread creeper that we now see all over the island and most, if not all tropical regions of the world, the bougainvillea.

Then there’s Joel Roberts Poinsett, the 19th-century physician, botanist and American statesman. He was responsible for introducing the Christmas plant from its native home of the Pacific coast of Mexico to the rest of the world. Predictably, the official name for this bright red and green plant is the poinsettia.

The 19th century was a busy time for gardener-explorers. A nursery called Veitch, in the UK, sent its chaps out all over the place. Most famously, they were responsible for the unimaginatively-named Victoria Amazonica, a giant South American plant named after the British queen at that time. It’s a decidedly weird pitcher plant that traps its insect prey in a giant cup before slowly dissolving and ingesting them.

This was when orchids appeared in the Western world. They were expensive then, and haven’t reduced in price much since. A single orchid bloom in the UK is still well over a pound (nearly 70 baht); funny how you’d be disappointed if there weren’t one or two stuck in the top of your cocktail in Phuket.

Our forefathers didn’t seem content just to borrow their tropical discoveries from their native homes – they felt the urge to modify them too. The cordyline, plumeria, and hibiscus they brought back were soon hybridized into countless varieties that were sometimes unrecognizable as being related to the original.

This hybridization continues today. As an example, it’s likely that as little as 20 years ago, Thai gardeners had no more than about 10 varieties of heliconia to choose from. Today there are hundreds; the colorful bracts are nowhere near as predictable as they once were.

Tropical plants are no longer reserved for the tropics – they’re everywhere now. While gardeners in the Western world do their best to keep them alive, our problem here is more likely to be keeping them in check. Gardening doesn’t get much easier than this.

As sequels go, A Brief History of Gardening 2 doesn’t have quite the same dramatic impact as Rambo: First Blood Part II, but at least I’ve done my bit to cash in. The fortunate part is that after last week’s initial installment, it could hardly go much further downhill. I wonder if I can get away with saying shag again…?



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