Return to Laos (part 1)

Recently, I flew into Luang Prabang to spend a few days at the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden. .  This is my second trip to Laos and the garden. The first was to do research and to interview staff for my forthcoming book.

The director of the garden, Rik Gadella, and I have become friends and, since my first visit in December of 2016, have discussed ways in which I can help the garden.

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Rik Gadella ( left)  and Chris Woods.

So, I needed and wanted to return.

It is the end of the rainy season. The Mekong River is high, fast-flowing and muddy. Luang Prabang has not had a particularly strong wet season but it is lush and, as always, humid.

I have written about Pha Tad Ke in a previous post – . On this most recent trip, I had time to explore the city and the garden in more detail.

Luang Prabang  is in the northern and central part of Laos. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and is known for its many Buddhist temples, French colonial architecture, and now, the botanical garden.

There are many temples in the city. One, in particular, is particularly beautiful.  Wat Xieng Thong, is at the northernmost end, at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam rivers. It is a compound of temples and shrines, and an active monastery.

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The streets in this part of the city are narrow  and full of plants.IMG_3543



Citrus peelings are laid out to dry. They are  used in houses as mosquito repellent.

As for the garden,the website has a lot of information.

The entrance to a garden, the entrance to any space, establishes the tone of the experience that is meant to follow. It is the first note of the overture that lies beyond.

A wooden longboat is moored to a jetty in the Mekong River. On the prow of the boat is a small tree in a pot. It is there to keep evil sprits away. It seems to work, since the short journey from city to garden is one of serene beauty.

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Visitors disembark and climb steps to the garden, its entrance situated high above the flood waters of the “Mother of Rivers”.



In October, many of the gingers (Zingiberaceae) are in bloom.


Torch ginger – Etlingera elatior



Cheilocostus speciosus –  Crȇpe ginger.
Hedychium species


An unknown cultivar of Canna.

The garden has a collection of about 200 gingers, three-fourths of which are identified. Possibly 300 species are native to Laos. Part of a new five-year plan for education and research concentrates on Zingiberaceae.

More of that in part 2.






Author: urbanehorticulture

A native of England a U.S. citizen for the past 30 years, I have worked in the garden world as a director and designer for over 35 years. I am best-known for my groundbreaking designs at Chanticleer, an estate and “pleasure garden” in Wayne, PA, where I worked for 20 years. Career Highlights I started my gardening life at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, England, where I was trained as a gardener. I worked in three other gardens in the UK, notably Portmeirion in Wales, Bateman’s in Sussex, and Cliveden in Buckinghamshire. At Bateman’s, I was responsible for the restoration of the 17th-century garden. I came to the U.S. in 1981 and was director and chief designer of Chanticleer in Pennsylvania for the next 20 years. I transformed a moribund private estate into one of America’s most exuberant, romantic and flamboyant gardens. Its glorious 47 acres have been celebrated by gardeners and horticulturists from around the world and, based on my designs, it continues to draw international visitors every season. After twenty years creating Chanticleer, I became vice president for horticulture for the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden and, in 2006, was appointed director of the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, Canada. While pleased to be in Canada, my heart yearned for California and in 2008 he was appointed executive director of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden. After a successful period in northern California, he returned to his home near Santa Barbara, CA where I operated my own design-consulting business. In 2012, I was lured back east by The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (founded in 1827) and appointed director of its private estate and garden, Meadowbrook Farm. I was commissioned by PHS to design the central feature for the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show, the third major exhibit I have designed for PHS over the years. Among numerous other responsibilities, I have been a member of the board of the Fairmount Park Conservancy in Philadelphia and a founding member of the business advisory board for the Flora of North America Project. I have designed gardens in Chicago, northern and southern California, and throughout the Northeastern United States. I have also been a consultant to the Garden Conservancy and to Botanic Gardens Conservation International, as well as serving on the horticulture advisory committee of Lotusland in Santa Barbara, California. I have been the Advancement Advisor for the Flora of North America Association and am now traveling the world researching, interviewing, and photographing for a book on gardens around the world. Books & Awards My n first book, The Encyclopedia of Perennials, was published in 1992 by Facts on File. I also contributed to 1001 Gardens to See Before You Die (Barron's Educational Series, 2012) and The Gardener’s Garden (Phaidon Press, 2014). In 2003, I was awarded the Professional Citation for significant achievements in public horticulture by the American Public Garden Association. In 2007, The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society awarded me its prestigious medal for Distinguished Achievement. I currently live in the Bay Area, California.

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The New Perennialist

Musings on plants, gardens, travel, food and sex. Mostly plants and gardens.


for people who want more than gardening from gardens


Uprooting the Gardening World

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