Here in Canada, I’ve made a special five hour trip by train just to see lotus in bloom at the Montreal Botanical Garden, where they have a fantastic collection. In Thailand, lotus flowers and plants are so commonplace, you very nearly become unaffected by them.
They even grow in ditches off the side of the highway. When I travel, these are the sorts of observations I like to make. These are the places I want to see. These are the experiences that make me squeal with delight and the fondest memories that come back again and again decades after the fact. This is what I want to photograph and write stories about.
What is growing in the ditches, lots, and brown spaces? I genuinely want to know. One of the most frustrating aspects of being on a media tour in Thailand was the inability to stop the bus and get off to explore in the way that I would were I in control of my trip. Alas, many of these fantastic sights had to be enjoyed at a passing glance through the window of a fast moving tourist coach while on the way to another banal tourist attraction that I didn’t care to see, had no interest in writing about, and would come to resent for all of the time it took away from the possibility of seeing something real and truly inspiring.
Give me time to spend gleefully exploring your country’s ditches, dusty roadsides, and messy, tangled lots. Visits to ostentatious, over-the-top gardens and demonstrations of opulence are wasted on me. I will choose a tour of your city’s urban brown fields or the backroads well out in the middle of nowhere over five star luxury accommodations any day. No contest.
A great deal of my childhood nature discoveries took place in the fallow field next to our townhouse complex and it is for this reason that I have a natural affinity for these unkempt places. You can learn a lot about your favourite plants by looking at what thrives where no human hand is in control. This curiosity about derelict land has remained strong through my adult life and has extended into my travels. I never really understood the resiliency of watermelon until I saw one growing (and producing fruit, too) next to a smouldering pile of plastic in a dumpy lot in Mexico. Okra is known as an extremely heat loving and drought tolerant plant. The sheer number of okra plants I saw growing wild in abandoned lots in Barbados really drove that home in a tangible way.
And so, in Thailand, while there were lots of popular office space tropicals living lush in the ditches and waterways, it was the lotus (and the sheer volume of it) that stood out most.