A desert garden in Klaeng

On an inlet along the coast of Rayong, amidst mangrove forests, Anupap Pongnametta has created a ‘desert garden’. It is an amazing sight: giant cacti and aloe emerging from rocks, sand and volcanic stone. Anupap, alias Jone, seems oblivious to the discrepancy between the rainy coastal climate and the drought-loving succulents. “They are easy plants,” he says untroubled.
He is more worried about the brackish water and the poor soil. Nevertheless he has an abundance of healthy plants, both in the ground and in the greenhouse. It shows that he knows how to tackle these problems.
Jone used to be a commercial movie director in Bangkok. Some years ago, when he was in his early fifties, he wanted to get out of that scene with its ever younger film crews. He decided to swap the hectic metropolitan area for the simple life of a full-time gardener. He brought the mature palm trees and other plants from his Bangkok garden to the family property in Klaeng. And he started gathering the best specimens from Thai nurseries, and ordering plants from the Americas and Madagascar.
With an incredible drive Jone has transformed the 22 rai plot (about 8 acres) into an interesting garden with free entrance. Through a shady area for palm trees and aroids, and a small creek with aquatic plants, visitors arrive at a beautifully decorated coffee shop and restaurant. Behind that appears his knockout: ‘Jone’s desert botanical garden’. In the greenhouse he propagates the weirdest succulents in all colours and sizes, some of which are for sale. “But I am not an expert,” he says, laughing shyly, “because I cannot remember all the names.”

March 2021, text Karolien Bais, image Mijnd Huijser


Thailand is gifted with many gardening geeks, plant collectors and specialized nurseries. It’s a pleasure to explore these gardens, and, with some luck, have a chat with the owner. Although my Thai is totally insufficient, we somehow always get down to some ‘plant talk’.