Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Introduction to horticultural carbon

Tropical Horticulture and Gardening carries a description of the use of horticultural carbon.

Horticultural carbon is a great new product for gardeners in the tropics. It can be mixed with clay soils to improve soil porosity. It is sterile and only half the weight of soil. Unlike sand, it is able to hold water and nutrients. It is made from sawdust, compressed into briquettes and carbonized in a kiln. The briquettes are the main product. Horticultural carbon is a byproduct made by breaking up the brickets into particles of less than 1.5 cm diam. The fine dust or soot (1 mm or less diam) is sieved away and the rest are graded by size.

I use carbon mixed with burnt clay in various proportions: one part carbon to one part clay, two carbon to one clay, or pure carbon. The mixtures work well in flower beds and big pots. In small pots, they tend to dry too fast. The best mixture is probable two carbon to one soil (by volume)

I developed this material as a substitute for soil, for growing a tropical rain forest within a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur. The forest contains over 100 species of timber trees and palms and it is thriving on this medium.

I next used this material to grow the herbal garden of the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre in Kuching. The plants in this medium are bigger and healthier than those on normal soils.

Another project is a cactus garden on a rooftop, exposed to full tropical sun and rain. Many desert plants were able to live on this medium, showing that they do not mind the tropical rain, so long as the water drains away quickly. However, daily rain during the past couple of months have prevented them flowering.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Published, at last

Today, I received a bound copy of Tropical Horticulture and Gardening. My copy was from the Clearwater Publications (International) Edition that will be available at the Singapore Floral Expo. After the Expo it will be available at Nature's Niche at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

The Academy of Science's (Malaysian) Edition was delivered to the Academy the day before yesterday. The retail price mentioned in our discussions was RM (Ringgit Malaysia) 260 but we have no control over how the Academy will finally market it and at what price. From past experience with the Academy, the book will probably be sold direct by the Academy rather than through retail booksellers, but I will try to get the Forest Research Institute Malaysia a share of the action.

Friends who saw early drafts of the book were put off by its apparent lack of focus and advised me not to proceed. The first publisher I offered it to, turned it down. I gritted my teeth, provided the start-up finance and went ahead. To make a real impact, this book had to be radically different from everything else in the market. I wanted it to be a thinking person's book: informative, scientific, humanistic and universal, yet firmly based on first-hand and truly tropical experience. Also individualistic and provocative. Otherwise why bother to write a book? The cost of marketing takes up 50% of the retail price of a book, leaving barely enough to finance the design and printing. The effort is worthwhile only if the author has something to say and wants to say it in a personal way.

Members of the Selangor Gardening Society who saw a set of the final printed pages a week ago were greatly enthusiastic, so perhaps I have managed to pull it off.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Yes, we are almost there

The printing has been done and the books should be available before Christmas. The retail price has been fixed at Malaysian Ringgit 260, but do not expect to find this book in the bookshops. The Academy of Sciences Malaysia, publisher of the Malaysian editon, has not appointed any distributor, so books will have to be obtained directly from the Academy, at 902-4 Jalan Tun Ismail, 50480 Kuala Lumpur. I will try to arrange for it to be sold at the bookshop of the Forest Research Institute Malaysia at Kepong. Members of the Selangor Gardening Society had a preview of the book and were enthusiastic about it.

The International Edition will be available in Singapore and Australia. I will post the details when I have them.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Yes, it is being printed

Today, I got to examine some of the printed sheets as they came off the machine. The colour of the pictures was a little too yellow, but this was easily adjusted by the machine operator. The machine is fast and I expect the entire print job (1500 copies) will be done in one week. Not bad for a 350 page full-colour book. We plan to rush some books to Singapore for the Singapore Garden Festival on 16 - 25 December, before the official launch in Kuala Lumpur.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Tropical Horticulture and Gardening being printed

Finally it looks as if the book is being printed, after weeks of excuses. I think the Printer was under pressure to rush other books and I got pushed out of the queue.

The latest printing technology is a lot better than the old technology using metal type (I am refering to the 1960s when I edited a forestry journal) but there are some new dangers in the system. In the days of metal type, each time we corrected a proof, the obsolete version would be destroyed. Now the obsolete versions hang around in the digital realm somewhere in the computer memory and come back inexplicably to haunt us. Last week, we decided to look at the latest printout and found wrong pictures on some pages, unauthorized font changes, a missing line and a repeated line. I also found an embarrassing typo that was missed in proof-reading, but I decided to live with it, so as not to cause any further delay.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Chiangmai Royal Flora Expo

I visited the Royal Flora Expo in Chiangmai a few days after it opened and was greatly impressed by the effort put into the show by the organisers. Foreign visitors were greatly outnumbered by Thais, who came by the busload from all over Thailand. The huge showground is about half and hour's drive from the city and one can only approach it by public transportation. It was a good idea to keep private cars away. The parking area was big enough for hundreds of buses and taxis but it would have been impossible to accommodate private cars. The grounds had been carefully landscaped, with lakes, hills and manicured lawns. Many of the displays were put up by corporations, countries and individual exhibitors.

Malaysia make a good effort with a traditional Malay house within a lush tropical garden. The crowd appreciated this and queued up to enter. The Netherlands put up a brave show with beds of tulips that faded rather quickly in the dry weather and had to be replaced overnight. India put up a minimalist walled garden with a single Bodh (Ficus religiosa) sapling in the centre, accompanied by a prominent signboard explaining at great length the philosophical significance of the bodh tree. Spain also made a minimalist garden, but with columnar evergreen conifers making a backdrop for a small stage on which a flamenco dancer was scheduled to perform. We did not wait for the show but I was pretty sure Spain's flamenco garden would win the popularity prize. Among the indoor displays, Japan and Taiwan were impressive, the former with a Japanese landscaped garden and the latter with waves of Phalaenopsis orchids against rolling hills. Japanese gardens always look good, but for attractive innovation, my vote goes to Taiwan.

While in Chiangmai, do not forget to visit the huge flower market in town. The market houses hundreds of plant retail outlets and looks like a permanent floral expo.

The show will last three months and exhibits and themes will change from week to week. I flew from KL to Chiangmai direct, to avoid a time-wasting stopover in Bangkok Airport.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Book update

Tropical Horticulture and Gardening, supposed to be printed last week has been delayed to next week. The Printer had too many deadlines to meet and I was bumped off my place in the queue.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Singapore Garden Festival

Singapore, which has been the pace-setter for gardening in tropical Asia since the 1970s, will host an international garden festival on 16 - 25 December 2006. This will be Singapore's first international garden festival and it is expected to attract 200,000 visitors. The Singapore festival, with the Royal Flora Horticultural Show in Thailand in November 2006 - January 2007, will dramatically signal the rise of Singapore and Thailand in the world of horticulture, long dominated by shows in England and the Netherlands. For tropical Asian gardeners, two international class events within one year at nearby locations is a really unexpected treat. Let us all support these events. The Singapore website is www.singaporegardenfestival.com/

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Biggest tropical flower show ever

Thailand is planning to host the biggest show in tropical horticulture and gardening ever. This event, held in honour of His Majesty the King of Thailand, will be held in Chiang Mai from November 1, 2006 to January 31 2007. The showground will cover 80 ha and is expected to feature over 2000 types of tropical ornamental plants. This is too good to miss. Details are available at www.royalfloraexpo.com

The organizers have announced that the show will go on notwithstanding the recent change in government. I plan to be there in the first week of the show.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Update on progress of publication

The publisher of the book will be the Academy of Sciences Malaysia for the Malaysian edition. There will be a concurrent international edition by Clearwater Publications (Kuala Lumpur). The final details are being put into place and the printing should commence in October 2006.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Tropical Horticulture and Gardening, to be published soon, is a 360-page book covering over 1000 kinds of ornamental plants grown in tropical Asia, including ferns and fern-allies, gymnosperms, monocots and dicots, arranged by botanical families. It contains over 1300 colour photos and chapters on the history of plant domestication, garden design and plant growth under tropical conditions. This blog site has been established to promote discussion and identification of tropical plants.

Friday, September 01, 2006

First Post

This is the blog for my new book, "Tropical Horticulture & Gardening".