Thriving in Adversity

Its the dry season here and on cue the drained peatlands of Indonesia have become tinderboxes culminating in the annual event of Haze that chokes this region. The first time I experienced this was shocking, to actually 'suffer' an oppressive climatic issue that you have no control over. This time, while it is still ongoing, it has not been quite as severe although much time has been spent indoors with windows and doors shut. One reason might be that we have continued to have some rain on and off to soften the blow.

Despite this, plants in the Gravel Garden continue to thrive. Just today I took this image of the Sanseveria Cylindrica's impressive flower stalk. The Natal Plum, Carissa Macrocarpa to the far right, continues to get bushier, spilling over the wall with flowers at the end of its trail. Further along the border, the variegated Agave Americana has sent up a huge flower spike through the variegated Pandanus Tectorius which is perhaps not so good news as it does indicate the approach of its own demise. On the other hand, not a bad thing perhaps as the Pandanus has begun to oppress it  by putting it in substantial shadow. Top right, the white edged Agave Angustifolia Marginata keeps on keeping on, I've harvested two suckers from it, so now it is three. In the middle of the picture, in case you're wondering, there is a bleached driftwood next to the gray thorny trunk of a lime tree.

None of theses plants are native to this region, apart from the Pandanus, but are doing extraordinarily well here in this garden with little to no fuss. I don't have to worry unless it doesn't rain for more than a week. Its unusual if it doesn't rain after four or five days here - but there have been instances where its been dry for over a week and last year there was an unusual drought that lasted almost 2 months. This is actually very, very different from the climate I experienced as a child living here where, the normal occurrence would be for the equatorial convectional heat to reliably produce a short shower almost every day with the occasional day without rain.

I attended an interesting symposium in Singapore about Biophilia the other day where there was a conversation about natives and it was remarked how much better non natives performed in the much drier climate that we are experiencing. Not forgetting also that urban environments in the tropics are also quite different in the amount of raw exposure we have to overhead sun as well as heat energy bouncing off  acres of concrete. Its a reality to take into account when climate change, adverse climate events and the built environment create radically different circumstances for you when you are tending a garden. In contrast- the Dark Verandah on the other side of the house with its largely native plants continues to require a lot of fussing, and daily watering.

Many of these dry loving plants though have had a long history here, usually inhabiting pots on the porch most probably because of their tolerance for neglect. Some like the Carissa have been adopted by the Chinese community as symbolic 'money plants' their evergreen resilient waxy leaves manifesting 'ong' which loosely translates to 'luck'. Agaves are often found in gardens decorated with eggshells on the end of its points. Its probably just a decorative thing although from a Feng Shui perspectives these eggshells serve to blunt the pointy 'poison arrow' effects. My Gravel Garden however looks different to local friends and visitors, even though many of the plants are known to them, because I've curated them in this stony dry landscape more reminiscent of California gardens than the lush tropical aesthetics they are used to.

Thriving in adversity may well become the future expectancy of our garden plants with the onset of more climatic and urban change. The 'foreign ness' of non natives may be less significant than their ability to adapt into local cultures and environments. This was an interesting point that the academics at the symposium were riffing on - as we inevitably create new urban landscapes, that have merit for being more densely efficient, we need to develop new strategies to not only cope but to innovate and create new regenerative landscapes that thrive.


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