It has been quite a while since I last delivered a gardening talk at a public library. Last Saturday (27 Oct 07), I gave a talk on landscaping for beginners at Bishan Community Library. This talk was supposed to be delivered by one of the young gardeners from Green Culture Singapore, Chong Ren but at the very last minute he was sent to Brunei for military training. So I had to take over.
The crowd was quite receptive. Cheow Kheng, my very good friend, supporter and collaborator was present to give me his support. I am very touched by his gesture as he sat through the entire session and had rushed to the libary from an earlier event. Shirley was present too. She was the one who helped me to take some of the pictures I post here.
One of the interesting topics I touched on in the talk was “taboo plants”. It is quite unfortunate that a number of plants used for tropical landscaping belong to this category. I therefore took the opportunity to share with the audience my opinions to help dispel some of the myths and encourage people to embrace these plants. I hope my audience are not be offended. The taboo label is nothing but a product of the human mind.
Taboo plants, in general, refer to plants that a certain ethnic group will avoid growing, mostly for superstitious reasons. For example, most people in Singapore will avoid growing the Frangipani (Plumeria), croton and cordyline inside their home gardens as they have been regarded as graveyard plants. Growing graveyard plants in one’s home garden is believed to attract bad luck. Bananas and various night-blooming fragrant plants, especially those with white flowers, are also avoided they are believed to be linked to spirits.
Frangipani, croton and cordyline are colourful plants. They add colour to a gloomy place like a cemetary. In Singapore, they are common graveyard plants probably because they are hardy plants that do not need regular, meticulous maintenance. Fussy plants are not good candidates for planting in a cemetary because no one in the sound mind will visit the graveyard everyday to take care of them.
The characteristics mentioned above that these so-called graveyard plants have can in fact be good news to a gardener – one can still enjoy the plant with less work done. If you are still adverse towards the white Singapore plumeria (Plumeria obtusa ‘Singapore’), then go for those new Thai varieties that produce red, mauve and pink flowers. The yellows are so deep in some varieties that they resemble gold.
Next, most Singaporeans should be familiar with the anecdotes of the banana spirit. One can attract the beautiful banana spirit residing in the tree by tying a red string on one’s big toe using one end while the other end is threaded to a needle that has been pierced into the bud of a flowering banana plant. When night falls, one can await the arrival of the banana spirit. Because of this, homeowners, especially those who are Chinese or Malay, will refrain from growing banana trees in their homes.
While the Chinese and Malays regard the banana as a taboo plant, take note that the Hindus regard the banana tree as a holy tree. Banana trees are used to adorn the gates of Hindu temples during big occasions and weddings. The leaves and fruits of the banana are used as offerings to Hindu deities. The banana plant because of its continuous regeneration is regarded by Hindus as a symbol of fertility and prosperity.
Another belief that one may come across is that the presence of spirits in one’s vicinity if one suddenly detects a flower scent at night. As a result, people avoid growing fragrant, night-blooming flowers in their gardens. To add to the problem, many of the fragrant, night-blooming flowers are also white in colour. White colour, to various cultures is a colour of mourning and death.
Flowers that bloom at night emit a fragrance to attract pollinators to help transfer their pollen. They are white also so that they stand out more prominently against the darkness. These are the works of Mother Nature!