Terraces of Taiwan Part 2

The multitude of plants basking in shade or sun never bores me during walks through the lane ways of Taiwan because they give some insight of people’s affinity with plants and their ways of growing them in limited spaces. I remember being led upstairs to the rooftop terrace where hundreds of orchids, all hung from a trellis, were growing and flowering under a shade cloth that protected them from the intense tropical light.


Three houseplants, popular ornamentals for celebrations and house warming, are recycled as long-lived container plants for the terrace. The first two in the center is Plerandra elegantissima (false aralia) while the two on the right side are Pachira aquatica and Zamioculcas zamiifolia, an aroid.  Pachira aquatica, commonly known as Malabar chestnut, is often sold as “money tree” because it is thought to bestow financial prosperity. Sometimes the plants are seen with tied red ribbons and placed outside of businesses. It’s funny sight to see plants sprouting red ribbons during Chinese New Year.


 Dendrobrium aphyllum are cultivated on tree fern slabs that are hung from the poles. This orchid, native to India, Myanmar, Thailand, and south China, will eventually form naked pseudobulbs after the new shoots seen here shed their leaves. These pseudobulbs become covered with hundreds of lavender flowers with white lips in winter (late February to January). Pots of Hippeastrum (amaryllis) and Cordyline fruticosa complete the terrace garden, and a large Magnolia champaca will produce strongly scented white to creamy yellow flowers.


This terrace is more modest than the previous one, but it does not suffer from a lack of interest . A gnarled Podocarpus macrophyllus has been carefully pruned to keep its manageable size, and a flowering Cattleya orchid has been brought out from its growing area elsewhere. To top it off, large pink blossoms cover a camellia next to a sock rack.

Staghorn Ferns

A beautiful Clerodendrum wallichii steals the attention from chrysanthemums, staghorn ferns, pitcher plants, and succulents in the same storefront featured in this past Tuesday’s Terrace’s Jiufen plant shop.


Bonsai had its origins in the Chinese penjing, which the Japanese later appropriated as their own. The owner of this terrace erred from having a miscellany or hodgepodge of plants, opting instead for elegant simplicity and cleaner lines in this display of three penjing. Surprisingly the display looks contemporary and well suited to the building steps.

Ferns on Walls

Sometimes nature intervenes, putting its ‘graffiti’ on human dwellings. The crevices of this stone wall have provided ideal moist and cool niches for these ferns and mosses. Allowing nature to express its creativity this fashion is no different from our approach towards self-seeding in the garden. No precise planning can replicate the ingenuity with which plants deposit themselves in unlikely places.  ~ Eric

Tuesday’s Terrace: Plant Shopfront in Jiufen (九份)


Here plants spill forth from the storefront in Jiufen, Taiwan, tempting visitors in this popular tourist destination to purchase a pot of camellia or chrysanthemum as a memento. Each inch of space has been maximized for full effect and dissipates the notion of ‘no terrace is too small for a plant or two’.  Inside the store, pots, tools, and garden accessories are displayed and can be bought as well. ~ Eric

Terraces of Taiwan Part 1

With a population density of 662 per km2, Taiwan (台灣) is the 16th most densely populated country in the world, with Taipei City (excluding New Taipei City) and Kaohsiung boasting approximately 2.6 and 2.7 million people each. Much of Taiwan’s mountainous interior is inhabitable, leaving the general population to reside in coastal plains and river basins. Space in urban areas is premium, and residences can be 3 to 5 stories tall if you discount the high rise buildings and skyscrapers. There is scarcely any space for gardening, although parks and public spaces are not short of greenery.

I have watched Taiwan rapidly modernize in the last 20 years  – once people took 1-hour domestic flights from Taoyuan or Songshan Airports to Kaohsiung or the 5-hour train journey back and forth, today the high speed trains have largely replaced these transportation modes and cut the time incredulously to 1 1/2 hour. Efficient clean subway systems now run in Taipei and Kaohsiung. Imported goods from Japan and Europe vie for attention with Taiwanese products in elegant department stores, Taiwan’s consumerist temples. And a strong cafe culture, abetted by the Taiwanese’s overseas experiences, have emerged  – having afternoon tea and coffee, and sweet pastries has become a popular routine.

The Taiwanese appetite for technology and food certainly has not gone un-whetted nor has their affinity for gardening and nature gone unbidden. In the garden courtyard of former tobacco factory-converted art galleries, the cool winter air was scented with large flowering shrubs of Osmanthus fragrans. It is rare to find a balcony or terrace empty, not decorated with plants. Some of the plants are familiar houseplants in northern climates that flourish outside in the subtropical climate of Taipei and Kaohsiung. ~Eric


In the courtyard of this dwelling, the owner had placed five pots of Osmanthus fragrans (桂花, guìhuā) because their scented flowers would be a pleasant olfactory welcome for visitors. Hanging above the potted plants are two poles either used for hanging laundry or baskets of plants. One may ask why plants with showier flowers or foliage were not used in lieu of Osmanthus, but subtlety is sometimes valued more in East Asian cultures than Western ones.


 Here a Cyathea holding well, despite in need of roomier quarters, softens the brutal concrete pillar of this three story residence in Kaohsiung. The golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum) flow around the fern, spreading the greenery on the ground. With its large fronds, the solitary Cyathea creates a strong focal point without overwhelming the pillar, demonstrating that significant impact can be made from one architectural plant rather than several grouped together.

Pots on Terraces

On the other hand, plants are grouped together to create a continuous green tapestry, concealing stained concrete walls and eyesores and humanizing the wear and tear of a house. Here in Taipei, this humble dwelling has bromeliads, cactus and succulents, and random houseplants in assorted containers with no conceivable order. An Epipremnum aureum has been permitted to clamber up on a post right of the house. Cover the greenery with your hand, and the house looks rather humdrum. Seeing plants in these urban environments can be therapeutic not only for the homeowners, but also pedestrians who walk through the neighborhood.

 Pots on Stands

Going up instead of down can be a creative solution to tight spaces – here each plinth either has a pot of Adenium obseum (between the front red gate), Beaucarnea recurvata (ponytail palm) (second from the left), or Sansevieria (blue and white pots). More plants, including a Breynia distchia (the clipped dome) and caladiums, are spread across the terrace. Both homeowners managed to present an attractive entrance replete with plants, and red is an auspicious color in Chinese culture.

Hanging Houseplants

Begonias, bougainvillea, and orchids occupy every inch of this terrace no wider than 3′ – it’s amusing to catch the sight of a laundered shirt or pants drying in the sun. A wooden sign below pleads with the public not to touch or steal the plants.

Overflowing vegetation

In a busy Taipei laneway full of retail stores and restaurants, the second floor terrace can be barely made out as the vegetation escapes from the grille into the open air and light. An unidentified succulent dangles at irregular intervals across the edge of both storefronts.

Tuesday’s Terrace: Cestrum nocturnum in Kaohsiung, Taiwan


Today’s terrace shows a mature specimen of Cestrum nocturnum, a West Indies shrub covered with its chartreuse tubular flowers, arching by the side of a dwelling. Its fragrance does not become perceptible until evening – it can be described as overpoweringly sweet. However, one will prefer smelling Cestrum over the motorcycle fumes! The contrast between two different scents plays off the natural and urban domains.

“One travels more usefully when alone….”


Taipei 101, once the world's tallest building, anchors the skyline of Taiwan's largest city Taipei.
Taipei 101, once the world’s tallest building, anchors the skyline of Taiwan’s largest city Taipei.


One travels more usefully when alone because he reflects more. ~ Thomas Jefferson