Green Therapy in Bangkok

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Bangkok is not a city devoid of nature.  For a place with $10 million + inhabitants, it is surprisingly green and lush. On occasion I’ll walk down a particularly green street that feels more like that of a sleepy tropical village than a city of this size.  (It is easier to think that before I find myself waiting 10 minutes to cross 8 lanes of traffic at the intersection at the end of that street.)

Because it is humid and sunny, plants of the tropical sort grow like crazy.  There are fruit trees, palm trees, wild-looking shrubs, and an excess of bright flowers that we would have payed big bucks to have in a vase for a few days back home.  If you’ve ever flown through here, you know that the most spectacular orchids somehow even thrive in the piped-in air of the airport.

And so, despite the fact that I have tropical fruits at my fingertips and can walk down the street to get some of the best food (I would argue) in the world, I have grown determined to harness some of this greenness and put it to work.

I am the first to admit that I am attempting this in, quite possibly, some of the most terrible conditions for gardening.  For starters, there is the practical fact that I don’t know what I’m doing.  (I did buy a book on it though.)  Second, I live in an apartment with a tiny balcony.  Actually, balcony is an overstatement – it’s more like an outdoor closet that houses the giant fans connected to our air conditioning units.  Finally, I’m not exactly planting things that naturally thrive in this climate.  (Why grow cilantro when I can buy a bouquet of it across the street for ten cents?)

If you came to my apartment at some point last summer, it would now be reasonable for you to be thinking – “but Jess, why don’t you focus your efforts on something that you’re actually good at, like organizing, or shopping…for fake plants that might have a chance at survival in your hands?”

It’s true.  My record is not good in this department.

I’ve had some time to recover from last summer’s loss of a balcony crop of peppers, tomatoes and herbs, all of which I managed to kill within 2 months of purchase.  Their demise came about despite the fact that the peppers and tomatoes were from Home Depot and were already bursting with fruit at the time of purchase.  (A friend was able to bring them back to life while I was out of town, only for every one of them to keel over after a few weeks back in my care.  Sigh.)

On Day 1 of this experiment, the “garden” is looking well-labeled and orderly.  You can see my skill set revealing itself:

Organizing: A+
Gardening: Needs Improvement 

In the running to become permanent residents of my Bangkok balcony are:

– cherry tomatoes
– sweet peppers (a mix)
– lavender
– rosemary
– oregano
– arugula
– mixed lettuce (labeled as “heat wave blend”, so I thought it might stand a chance)
– broccoli
– string beans
– sweet peas (pushing my luck with the heat factor here)
– spaghetti squash (a long-lost cold-weather friend)
– pumpkins (wishful thinking for Halloween season?)

I’m hoping to use clippings to grow the things that are easy to buy here and that I know grow well – mint, sweet basil, and thai basil.

I figured I’d give them all a shot.  Go big, or go home.

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About Jess Smith

Jess is the recipe creator and photographer at She spent nearly a decade as the Chief Recipe Developer for the award-winning meal planning app Cook Smarts. Her colorful, healthyish recipes have been featured in popular online publications including Parade, Hallmark, and HuffPost.

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