Horticulture in vietnam….part 1

Last year in September i was give an opportunity to travel around South East Asia; i went there to visit some of the wonderful sites that were on offer, touristic as well as professionally. I of course took this chance to try and understand how horticulture and landscape design was being used out there, i happened across a number of intriguing places and the next couple of posts will highlight these….
Nestled deep in the central highlands of Vietnam there is a city that can only be described as a beautiful little oddity, this city is Dalat. It has a population of just over 200,000 and it’s has been called the ‘city of a thousand pine trees’ because it is surrounded by vast pine forests that wouldn’t look out of place in Britain, Germany or some other European country. It’s temperate is that much cooler compared to the other areas of Vietnam making it an ideal place to find some stunning horticultural sights. The roads are lined with tree marigold blossom (Tithonia diversifolia) at this time of year and it is home to two rather wonderful sights; the first is the Dalat Flower Park, and the second is the Crazy House – both of which had interest for horticulturalists, and designers alike.
Ok, so the Dalat Flower Park/Garden. This Park was established in 1966 and plays host to annual flower show, it is home to some beautifully arranged plants laid out in a rather European fashion. As you enter the park you’re treated to quiet a special sight; a living wall that acts as the sign to the park and it’s huge gate, it’s a much less complicated living wall that those being marketed at the moment in UK and elsewhere. Its simply made up of hundreds of individual pot plants set against a large frame that forms three archways and walls to queue against. It’s made up of numerous plant species including fuchsia, marigolds and ivy.
There are lots of influences of the previous occupation by France still lingering in Dalat, whether it’s the architecture of the chalet style buildings that surround the park or indeed in the planting within. Many of the beds are surrounded by low box hedges creating parterre style beds, amongst these parterre beds you can find the familiar  hydrangeas, fuchsias and orchids. If you look around a little further you will come across the bird of paradise plant, jasmines, honeysuckles, asanthias and agapanthus to name but a few. There is a even a little of the good old carpet bedding arranged like clocks, flags and stars amongst other things.
The park is also home to a collection of fantastic Bonsai trees which are located directly in the centre of the park behind the long central water feature that acts to guide the eye through the park as you enter. I’ve always been fascinated by bonsai trees since I first saw Karate Kid (the original one). I was brought one as a Christmas  present  several years ago but unfortunately it didn’t last too long and to be fair it was nothing like these spectacular specimens. Some are so intricate in appearance that they wouldn’t look out of place in a Tim Burton movie, and some are so big, and planted in such shallow bowls that I just don’t understand how they stay looking so vivid.
Throughout the park there is plenty of shade to take a rest from the sun ’cause although it’s cooler in Dalat the day time temperature still reach 28 degrees. The shade within the flower park is created by extremely large Rubber Trees  (Ficus elastica roxb ex moraceae) with their creeping above ground root system and almost black out canopies. Also present in abundance throughout all of Dalat not just this park is the Bottlebrush Tree (Callistemon) with its weeping appearance splattered with its distinctive red brush like flowers it really adds a delicate hint of above eye level colour.
I was given the opportunity to go to the green houses and have a chat with some of the growers, their is english is not great but they will happily show you around the nurseries and stock that have growing ready for planting out. The lillies and orchids that have in there are just beautiful and to be honest I was not aware that they came in so many colours, shapes and sizes it’s was just amazing. I was given some seeds to take home and propagate myself.
Then there is the slightly stranger and in my opinion rather creepy topiary that is littered throughout the site, some, are traditional spheres and rectangles which wouldn’t seem out of place in a stately home garden back in the UK. Then there are the dragons and the tea pots which are cleverly conceived and well grown, but others like the dogs, monkeys and cobras with their sharp metal teeth just look down right weird and although some guide books say this will please children I’m a not so sure, I think it’s probably gonna freak them out – it did me!
Well speaking of strange and freaky that brings me onto my next place of interest the aptly named Crazy House or Hang Nha Villa as its known locally really is a bizarre architectural marvel. The building and the landscaping that intertwines with each other made me blink in astonishment.
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