Vietnam Blog – October 2022 by Billy Alexander

Sometimes an opportunity comes along that is just too good to miss. So when, as I was coming down from the high of Southern Symposium Seven in early October, a number of disparate life strands merged and it suddenly made perfect sense for me to combine a little bit of plant exploration in Việt Nam with a family reunion in Thailand, I wasn’t long in making the necessary arrangements and in no time at all I found myself in Hà Nội. This is a wonderful city, vibrant, busy, and a little bit crazy.

I rate Hà Nội as one of my favourite cities anywhere, it brings me back to my boyhood fascination of looking at anthills, except here the ants are millions of people on their bikes, motorbikes, rickshaws, cars, buses all criss crossing each other knowing where they are going and determined to get there. It’s like the Fair of Spancil Hill, the Galway Races, the All-Ireland Final and the Dublin Horseshow all rolled into one.The footpaths are not for walking on, they are crammed with motorbikes, stalls, restaurants right up to the middle of the road, hawkers and all humanity. Simply no rules of any description but somehow it works out.I recommend staying in the Old Quarter, but a couple of days of city-life is enough for this country boy. The weather at this time of year is very pleasant, dry and sunny every day, and comfortably hot, in the high 20s.

On my second day I met up with the plant -hunters. Dan Hinkley, Windcliff, Indianola, Washington; Scott McMahan and Tim Marchlik, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Georgia; and Mark Weathington, JC Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh, North Carolina; all are veterans of plant collecting expeditions in this area. I have explored Northern Việt Nam a number of times, but I count myself lucky to be in such august company. We met up in Hà Nội for dinner before heading north the following morning to Ha Giang and Quản Bạ for two days of treks in the Karst mountains of this region. We were joined by our expert support team of Dzu, Thanh, and Kheng from the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources (IEBR) and Nam, the foremost Magnolia expert from the Department of Forestry. After an 11-hour drive, we arrived in Hà Giang in the northeast corner of Việt Nam near the border with China.

Day 2 trekking in Tùng Vài:
Thankfully our next day’s trek had lots of walking through well maintained Paddy fields. This was an area with a lot of endemic magnolia species. The weather was very close and tropical. After yesterday’s adventures I was happy to stay close and walk in pace with the group. We encountered a lot of friendly rural people, who came out from nearby villages to farm in the clearings and eke a living off the land. We came across an amazing stand of the Caryota sp. (Fishtail) palms and some very attractive Trachycarpus palms and even some orchids in flower (Photo). Even travelling with such a group of experts it was so difficult to definitively identify the plants we encountered. These forays really teach us how little any one of us knows. It will be back to the books during the long winter nights.
Plants of the day, the amazing Amentotaxus hatuyenensis and Magnolia aromatica.
These are extremely rare plants, and we were indebted to Nam for showing us these very special and rare plants.

About Kells Bay Garden

A spectacular sub-tropical garden which has thrived for 150 years in the mild microclimate of Kells Bay. Almost 45 acres, through which the Deligeenagh River tumbles through woodland and glade is crossed by The SkywalkIreland’s longest rope-bridge. It has Europe’s largest collection of tree ferns and Ireland’s largest palm tree. Tea rooms, cafe, Thai restaurant and a specialist garden centre are open daily.

Kells Bay, Kells, Caherciveen, V23 EP48, Co. Kerry
066 9477975;;
Opening Times:
Open daily all year round from 09.00 – 18.00. Late evening opening during April through to the end of September. By appointment in January.

Billy, Mark, Scott, Dan and Tim

Airfield Estate Gardens

Ardan Garden

Ballintubbert Gardens and House

Ballycommane Garden

Ballymaloe Cookery School

Ballyrobert Gardens

Bantry House and Garden

Belvedere House Gardens & Park

Benvarden Garden

Birr Castle Garden

Blarney Castle and Gardens

Burtown House and Gardens

Colclough Walled Garden

Collon House

Coolaught Walled Garden

Coolwater Garden

Dawros Gallery & Garden

Dower House

Festina Lente

Fota House – Victorian Working Garden

Gash Gardens

Glebe Gardens

Glenavon Japanese Garden

Hester Forde Garden – ‘Coosheen Garden’

Hunting Brook Gardens

Irish National Stud and Gardens – The Japanese Gardens and St. Fiachra’s Garden

Johnstown Castle, Estate, Museum and Gardens

June Blake’s Garden

Kilfane Glen and Waterfall

Kilgar Gardens

Killruddery House and Gardens

Killyreagh Garden

Kilmokea Country Manor and Gardens

Kilravock Garden

Kylemore Abbey Victorian Walled Garden

Lodge Park Walled Garden

Loughcrew Gardens

Mount Stewart House and Gardens

Mount Usher Gardens

Oakfield Park

Old Deanery Garden

Patthana Garden

Rothe House Museum and Garden

Rowallane Garden

Salthill Garden

Seaforde Gardens

Seanabea Cottage


Strokestown Park Gardens

Tourin House & Gardens

Tullynally Castle Gardens

Tyrrelstown House Garden

Woodville Walled Garden

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