Outdoor Gardens, Thai Garden

Thai Garden Insider News Straight from the Source

Carla Minsky, Olbrich volunteer
Jun 3, 2024


Hidden Gems, Favorite Finds, and Recreating the Tranquility at Home

While restoration continues on the Royal Thai Pavilion (more on that later in this post), the garden is officially open for the season. This Q/A with horticulturist Dan Schuknecht, who’s been tending to the garden since 2017 (fun fact – he started as a volunteer, then served as an intern at Olbrich), sheds light on the many bright spots that make this lush tropical garden one of Olbrich’s most popular.

Are there plants that you always like to include?
There are always red banana plants, lots of ginger, Thailand Giant elephant ears, turmeric as an ornamental plant and to harvest, figs, and papayas grown from seed. I like to include food plants and herbs – edibles are fun to do and still very ornamental. We’re putting more perennials in place too.

How does the garden “speak to” the pavilion in terms of style and tradition through plant selection and colors?
I tend to use the colors that are on the pavilion - black, green, red, and gold - which mean specific things in Thai culture. Black for serenity, green for healing, red for compassion, and gold, an auspicious color, for mindfulness.

What’s your favorite part of the Thai garden?

I really favor the shaped rock pile symbolic of a mountain - it’s a traditional Thai gardening technique called Khoa Mor. There is a little horseshoe path behind the rock formation, it’s at the very outer edge of the area, and features a dense, succinct planting area.

What tips would you give home gardeners who want to create a tranquil space like this in their own gardens?
If you’re looking for a tropical effect at home, plant densely, don’t let things be too orderly, and let the lush effect take over.

What have you learned in the process of tending to the Thai garden?
I’ve learned so much just by doing it, trying things myself, doing it on this scale. I admit I still killed a lot of plants. I also take care of overwintering the tropical plants in the hoop houses. It is rewarding to make something so beautiful and ecologically functional for visitors, and it’s free. Still, it is work, with the garden being my office.