The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man.
Completely covered by tangles of roots and vines, it is only in recent years that many ancient grandiose brick and sandstone temples were re-discovered in Cambodia. These monumental structures, built on top of one another for over seven centuries as capitals of the Khmer Empire, have survived the passage of time. The jungle swallowed cities and palaces constructed of wood leaving only skeletal remains and inquisitive monkeys. The bustling, colorful life of the Angkor civilization was left to the imagination and research of historians, explorers, archaeologists, and me.
If you ever watched the 1991 film, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, you glimpsed the unexcavated and un-restored temple of Ta Prohm completely reclaimed by the jungle. Immense trees grow like magic out of stonewalls and through roofs. Our guide told us that visitors were allowed to explore the ruins only in the past few years because this area was occupied by cobras, many as long as twenty feet. To deter these venomous serpents from continuing to nest here, lemon grass was planted, and it is keeping the poisonous snakes away.
Southeast Asia is uncomfortably hot and humid. The jungles are wild and untamed. The flora is bright, beautiful, and bizarre. Palm, coconut, banana, mango, papaya, jackfruit, passion fruit, and breadfruit plantations fill the landscape alongside the never-ending fields of rice. Most villagers don’t have running water or indoor plumbing, the banana groves serve as their toilets. Nothing is wasted. Every part of a plant is used for food, shelter, fire, clothing, furniture, and other life necessities.
Both in Vietnam and Cambodia, water lilies and lotus flowers grow magnificently in the waterways. Although the two are often confused, water lilies have pads and flowers that float on the surface of the water while the lotus flowers and leaves rise a foot to several feet above water. The various colors of the lotus flower retell tales culturally revered.
Because lotus flowers grow in murky water, an unfurled white lotus refers to purity of body, mind, and spirit. A red lotus boasts of love and compassion. The favorite pink lotus tells the story of Buddha and the many legends surrounding him. Purple represents mysticism, royality, and spirituality. Lotus flowers are gathered and made into spectacular art pieces delivering the spirit of enlightenment and good fortune to those who embrace their grace and beauty.
Betel leaves and the areca nut are important symbols of love and marriage in Vietnam. A groom’s parents will begin the conversation with the potential bride’s parents by offering areca nut chewing. In Vietnamese weddings the leaves and juices are used in the ceremony. Betelnut is a stimulant and mind-altering substance. It is also known as “the scourge of Asia” because it causes oral cancer.
Rich in protein, calcium, potassium, iron, and other nutrients, the leathery, prickly Jackfruit is considered to be a miracle food with the potential to supply an entire family a complete meal. Grown in every garden, mangoes are a main staple of daily diets, considered one of the most important fruits for improved wellness. They are low in calories, filled with vitamin C, A, B6, and beta-carotene, important elements to fighting cancer, regulating diabetes, aiding in better eye sight, digestion, and clear skin.
Golden Shower trees were laden with buttery yellow flowers bringing light and cheerfulness to pathways, hills, and cemeteries. One of the most beautiful, yet prickly plants I witnessed was the Crown of Thorns, an evergreen cactus (Euphorbia Milii) that blooms year round in hot and sunny locations. It requires very little water, has spectacular scarlet, pink, yellow, white, or salmon colored bracts, grows to three feet or more, and is covered in one-inch spiky thorns. We can grow it outdoors or as a houseplant, however, as gorgeous as it is, definitely keep it away from children.
In the Mekong Delta, floating villages and traditional houses on stilts line the banks with residents laboring and living the way they have for centuries, harvesting what the great waters provide to survive and earn a living. Baskets and mats are created from river reeds and water hyacinth, ancient boats advertise their crops for sale with the fruit or vegetable speared on top of a high pole, floating fish farms supply fresh seafood while floating markets sell just picked produce. Sampans are made by hand from felled “Sao” wood, a very water resistant variety of oak.
Discovering the smiling, resilient people and the tranquil lush landscapes untouched by the hands of humans in Southeast Asia, inspired me to pause, breathe deeply, and appreciate this wild, environment once a hotbed of warfare and genocide. Without interruptions from phones and internet, I calmly disconnected from “civilized” chaos to welcome the wonders of essential nature. Spending time meditating in solitude and having a water blessing by monks awakened my sense of gratitude for the gardens of life.
Although I never encountered a tiger, I was consumed by jungle fever.
Cynthia Brian’s Gardening Guide for February
The hills are beginning to turn green, the narcissi and camellias are in full bloom, and daffodils are budding. Trees of magnolia and pear are blossoming with bees busily buzzing. Winter is waning. Here are a few things to check off your garden to-do list.
- ⎫ GATHER up all fallen camellia blossoms to prevent disease in your soil.
- ⎫ FORCE bulbs of amaryllis or lily of the valley by adding water to a jar with the bulbs and placing near a sunny window.
- ⎫ PLACE a stem of Daphne by your bedside to sweeten your dreams.
- ⎫ Add ferns, hostas, and caladiums to a shady spot as companion fillers.
- ⎫ APPLY final application of dormant spray to fruit trees.
- ⎫ PLANT anemone, ranunculus, and freesia for late spring blooming. If you already have freesia growing, blooms will appear in late February.
- ⎫ BUY copies of my newest garden book, Growing with the Goddess Gardener, from www.CynthiaBrian.com/online-store for best prices and loads of extra freebies. now what to do in your garden every month! Contact me for fees and scheduling to come speak at your event. Cynthia@GoddessGardener.com
- ⎫ SHARPEN tools for spring spading.
- ⎫ BRING the jungle flavor indoors by purchasing cymbidiums with several spikes of flowers.
- ⎫ GIVE yourself some moments of silence. Use your outdoors as your contemplation and meditation room.
- ⎫ REMEMBER Valentine’s Days with a potted plant or beautiful bouquet for your sweetie.
Happy Love Day! Happy Gardening! Happy Growing!
Cynthia Brian, The Goddess Gardener, raised in the vineyards of Napa County, is a New York Times best selling author, actor, radio personality, speaker, media and writing coach as well as the Founder and Executive Director of Be the Star You Are1® 501 c3.
Tune into Cynthia’s Radio show and order her books at www.StarStyleRadio.com.
Her new book, Growing with the Goddess Gardener, is available at www.cynthiabrian.com/online-store.
Available for hire.