Although far better known as a family entertainment venue on a super-grand scale, Nong Nooch devotes more than half of its 500 acres to nurseries for the cultivation of some 12,000 species, making it one of the largest and most diverse botanical collections in the world.
They include rare and near-extinct species as well as an unrivalled inventory a an almost complete collection of cycads and over 900 species of palms and over 300 varieties of bougainvillea along with virtually every other plant seen in Thailand.
Working in tandem with Nong Nooch’s owner Mr Kampon Tansacha, this deeply committed Swede has been a constant influence on the project’s development and stature over the past 30 years. From numerous visits to many other tropical countries, he has brought back all kinds of tropical plants previously unknown here, and exchanged plants with many of the world’s leading botanical gardens - and all the while stored seeds and pollen and gathered valuable information that will help preserve these most precious of resources for future generations.
"Together with owner Khun Kampong, Anders has transformed Nong Nooch into a place of immense beauty and scientific importance. It’s a hugely impressive achievement that is sometimes overshadowed by the venue’s tourist attractions"
While the plant collections are off limits to visitors, mainly because of their vulnerability, rarity and high value – some plants are so valuable they actually grow inside a cage to deter theft – there’s a completely separate area known as Nong Nooch 2 that has been designed to teach groups of schoolchildren about plant life, from organic vegetable growing to Thai cooking classes and pottery making.
Also within this area are farmer-related activities such as vermiculture with worms, organic fertilizer making, and wood coal making. An eye-catcher are the rows of ‘medicinal’ plants with signs that extoll their individual virtues, such as anti-cancer, ant-diabetes and even laxatives.
Despite his long service, Anders’ enthusiasm never flags and he continues to work six days a week, mostly as an adviser to the garden’s director, having handed over his previous positions and responsibilities to a local employee in 2012.
is loyalty remains undiminished, and praises owner Khun Kampon for being “very receptive to suggestions and improvements. The garden would not be what it is without his relentless enthusiasm over the years,” says Anders.
Together they have transformed Nong Nooch into Thailand’s very own Garden of Eden, a place of immense beauty and scientific importance. It’s a hugely impressive achievement that is sometimes overshadowed by the venue’s tourist attractions.
Born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1971, Anders graduated in press and documentary photography. He moved to Thailand in 1992 on a three-year contract to work for a Swedish company based here, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India, producing tropical ornamental plants for export to Europe.
What first inspired your interest in plant life?
My parents. My mother was a keen nature person and my father was the Director of the Tropical Greenhouse at the Bergius Botanical Garden, Stockholm. He joined Nong Nooch in 1995.
What were your first thoughts about plants/ trees in Thailand?
The lack of interest and knowledge about the local flora was overwhelming. I did contact the Thai Forestry Department for information but very little existed. The Flora of Thailand that was started in 1971 is still not completed.
How did you get a job at Nong Nooch?
I had assembled a considerable collection or cycads (plants with a stout trunk and crown of large evergreen leaves), some of which I imported from my own collection in Sweden.
The owner of Nong Nooch was very interested in cycads and he bought my whole collection and offered me a job as Curator of the Cycads at Nong Nooch. I set up the botanical collection and increased the living plants collection by finding them in the fields myself or purchasing them from all over the world.
I designed the shade houses and buildings to keep the plants and set up a computer database with records on where the plants came from and where they are located in the garden. I was appointed director of the Botanical Plant Collection. I also wrote many scientific papers on cycads and discovered new species of plants. We even have our own cycad gene bank.
Apart from yourself, how many botanists work at Nong Nooch?
Before 2012, there was a number of qualified staff at the garden. We also had a Palm Curator from Australia and Succulent Curator from New Caledonia as well as a fruit tree horticulturist from the US and a breeding program for date Palms at the garden. Now there are only a few Thai staff with horticulture education.
How many times have you attended the Chelsea Flower Show?
I organized and participated in all six exhibits at the Chelsea Flower show. Nong Nooch was awarded the gold medal all six times and was visited by the Queen of England on three occasions at the show. I also joined the Durban Botanical Garden exhibit once as well. We have also participated in the Flower Parade in Holland three times.
What do you regard as your greatest success while working for Nong Nooch?
To be able to assemble one of, if not the largest collections of living tropical plants and to continue doing research work on them. The knowledge of cycads has been considerably improved due to research done at the garden by myself and others and it will stand as milestone in cycad knowledge.
What else would you like to achieve?
The conservation of plants and natural places is urgently needed. The garden at Nong Nooch is a commercial enterprise and does not have a conservation base to build from. I am aiming to further my knowledge by working with conservation as a consultant or adviser.
What’s next for you?
I hope to be able to broaden my views and contribute a lot more to conservation work and biodiversity research.
Wide-eyed in Thailand’s monster garde
Covering some 1,800 rais in the hills of Bangsaray, 20 minutes’ drive south of Pattaya, Nong Nong Tropical Botanical Garden is unquestionably the region’s best known and largest tourist attraction. It may even be the biggest in Thailand.
The scale of the place is breathtaking. Five times the size of Lumpini Park in Bangkok, it offers visitors of all ages more to do and see than is humanly possible in a single day. Hence the hotels and villas located within the resort.
The main park has a Disneyland quality about it, but without the rides and garish décor. Instead, it relies on numerous beautifully maintained gardens, each with a different theme, linked by skywalks, boating lakes, elephant rides, cultural shows and, quite literally, hundreds of to-scale dinosaurs. The area is best toured by bike or sightseeing bus.
While youngsters gaze wide-eyed at the prehistoric monsters, their parents – at least the dads – can enjoy an air-conditioned exhibition of more than 100 rare cars, trucks, and modern racing cars, all belonging to Kampon Tansacha, owner of Nong Nooch.
The resort is also a popular venue for meetings and conventions, with a comprehensive choice of indoor and outdoor locations of varying size and facilities. The NICE exhibition center, for instance, is one of the region’s biggest at a whopping 5,610 sqm, divisible into three smaller halls, and capable of hosting up to 5,000 guests. Other sizable arenas are designed for shows, company parties, weddings and sports days.
But Nong Nooch has an important ecological side to it as well. For the past 30 years it has played a major role in the global effort to study, preserve and protect the world’s plants. More than half the resort is used for vast nurseries that stretch endlessly in serried ranks up into the hills, where more than 12,000 species from around the world are cultivated, earning Nong Nooch the accolade as one of the world’s largest and most diverse botanical gardens.
Unfortunately, this area is off-limits to visitors as it contains some rare and near-extinct species needing close supervision.
However, those fascinated by the wonders of plant life should visit Nong Nooch 2, a special educational facility located on the long road from the resort’s main entrance. This serves as a botanical classroom for groups of visiting schoolchildren and anybody with an interest in the basic elements of plant life.
Nong Nooch has come a long way from its launch way back in 1954 when Khun Pisit and his wife Nongnooch Tansacha purchased a 1,500 rai plot of land with the initial intention of developing it as a fruit plantation. The couple had a change of heart and decided instead to plant tropical flowers and plants as a wildlife conservation project, which opened to the public in 1980. The couple transferred the management to their son Kampon in 2001.
Nong Nooch has been recognized as one of the top ten most beautiful gardens in the world. In pre-Covid days, it welcomed up to 10,000 visitors a day, 90% of whom were from overseas. Nowadays, by far the vast majority of visitors are Thai.
Because of its horticultural expertise, Nong Nooch is often asked to design and plant gardens for outside customers, including hotels like the Montien in Bangkok and seven foreign embassies.