Temple garnished with cycads

Every morning and afternoon abbot Phra Sayan makes his rounds in the temple garden. The extensive grounds are dotted with palm trees, frangipani's, orchids, ferns and heliconia's. But most abundantly present are the cycads, his treasures.
He gently strokes their leaves as he passes by. Although he lost count of the cycad population in the garden, he knows the origin of every single plant: “These are from Cambodia, and these come from the nearby mountain Khao Chamao.”


He started the garden from scratch, some twenty years ago, when he was appointed as abbot of the temple Bo Pu in Chanthaburi province. Phra Sayan: “I have always loved cycads. They are easy to grow. Just a matter of water and fertilizer.”
What kind of fertilizer? “Any kind!”
What kind of soil? “Any kind!”
He points at the deep red clay in which the giant trunks spread their roots. It doesn't seem to matter that most likely bare rock is their natural habitat. I often notice cycad growers pampering their cultivation with pumice or lava, but this abbot relies on his carefree, practical approach.

“I am self-taught,” he says. “I exchange knowledge with old friends.” They must be expert friends then, since trunks with a diameter of 60, 70 centimeter are not exceptional in his collection. To my estimation they are a century old, but Phra Sayan proves me totally wrong: “No, no, maybe thirty years.”
He is especially fond of plants with variegated leafs. Some of them are his own breed. “They are worth a lot of money,” he says. “A specimen of about five years old easily fetches USD 2,000-3,000. The most profitable is the green-white variety, followed by the green-yellow and lastly the plain green.”
But he doesn't sell them. He is not into trade, he says. Sometimes he just plants them back in the wild; his donation to nature.

August 2019, 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’.