Vertical Living in Vietnam

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The rain has finally stopped. As a result the temperature is a very pleasant 31 degrees with a nice breeze. I am enjoying the last few hours in Vietnam before flying to Hong Kong.

This morning I visited one of my favourite showrooms in Saigon, where as much attention is paid to the landscaping as the product itself. The showroom is built in a thoroughly modern style with plants used to connect the inside seemlessly with the outside. The centrepiece is a huge pool of giant carp (I am not certain if they are Koi), dotted with bird’s nest ferns, Asplenium nidus. I especially like the very fine ones with fan tails. They must be very proud fish!

Along the drive are almost 20 specimens of my favourite palm of all, the supremely photogenic Bismarkia nobilis. I could, and have, spent hours photographing this incredible plant from Madagascar – its spikey and gently contorted silver leaves make it a fascinating subject for the camera, especially when the sun is shining. One day I plan to devote a post to this very exceptional plant – one of evolution’s finest.

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What I really wanted to share is the extent to which plants are happy to live vertically in this humid climate. Just outside the front doors, variegated Philodendron and ferns (perhaps Nephrolepis exaltata?) clamber up the sturdy, supportive trunks of palm trees. This is nature’s way of helping epiphytes, such as ferns, up to the light of the forest canopy. Philodendrons are climbers which revel in the shade, where their large leaves are protected from the sun and the humidity is high. On a nearby pillar, stag’s horn ferns (Platycerium superbum) put on a show of their unusual fronds.

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On the external walls of the buildings, this small-leaved climber is carefully controlled to enhance the architectural detail. It is kept tightly clipped to maintain straight lines and hugs the walls very effectively.

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Back at my hotel, the palms by the poolside are adorned with hundreds of pink and white orchids. These are Dendrobium orchids, which are also epiphytes. This means that they use tree trunks purely for support and collect their water and nutrients from the air, and moisture that gathers at the base of the leaf stems. Of course these have been positioned here by the gardeners and are probably changed regularly to maintain the show, but they are only mimicking what happens in nature.

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Finally, they don’t live vertically, but I had to include these lovely Heliconias. The lush foliage and dramatic flowers would look very at home in my garden in the UK. That’s the great thing abut gardening – always something new to try, even if we don’t quite enjoy Vietnam’s tropical temperatures.

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