Rainer & Suwanna Gaide
By Kit Knotts & Rainer Gaide
Reprinted from Pond & Garden 2:1
Click images to enlarge
Answering one of my many pleas for help with the PCL via iwgslist were Rainer and Suwanna Gaide, growers and exporters of waterlilies in Thailand. They began by offering to help with translation but I
I became very interested in this husband and wife who were helping so much and asked them about themselves. In the beginning, Rainer talked only about the business. When I asked for a bit of "romance", this beautiful story emerged.
Suwanna is Thai and I'm German. In 1975 I entered university in Berlin to study aerospace technology. It was always my childhood dream to follow in the footsteps of Werner von Braun -- and I still follow every space adventure very closely. This subject was very tough so I decided after 3 years to change to computer science. Also in '75 I married a Chinese lady from Malaysia whom I'd met in England. But in '82 this marriage broke up, in large part due to the fact that many Germans are not very foreigner friendly and my ex-wife was very sensitive in this regard.
She went back to Malaysia and
I followed, after completing my BSc later the same year and in
the hope of patching up (we were not divorced yet). Her family
would not agree to let us continue (family consent is a very
important matter in Asian cultures). I then went to Thailand
with less than US$100 in my pocket, where I knew some people
from contacts in Germany. Since I had given up everything in
Germany I was not inclined to go back there. I've not been back
While searching for a job in Thailand, I was offered a position as System Analyst in Saudi Arabia, which I took. After completing my one year contract there, I finally got a job as computer programmer at a small computer shop in Bangkok. This is where I met Suwanna who was just out of university with a BSc in Statistics. She worked there as a programmer and computer teacher. The shop sold an Apple clone to an American owned company which was exporting ornamental plants to the Middle East. The owner hired Suwanna and me to run his computer.
In 1986 this company folded and
we took over the business of exporting plants. In 1989 a Dutch
customer approached us about available waterlilies. Our first
shipment was a disaster (most lilies rotted along the way) but
this customer obviously saw us as a good potential source. He
visited us (and still is doing so once every year) and introduced
us to the commercially viable way of growing waterlilies for
export. Now we are growing only hardy type lilies and our production
quantities still do not meet demand. We also grow some marginal
plants for export.
Though Suwanna and I met in '84, it was not until 1993 that we got married because my divorce from my first wife took a very long time, involving embassies of three countries and also our finances did not look very good. Here in Thailand it is socially not acceptable to live together before marriage - so it was a really long wait.
The most heart-warming thing I experienced here about the kindness of the Thai people came from Suwanna's parents. Though being aware of our intention to marry one day, there was no guarantee that we would, yet they provided us in '86 with substantial start-up funds for our own company even though they themselves barely had enough for a decent living. This made me even more determined to make sure our company succeeded -- it did and now everybody is happy, though Suwanna's mother could not enjoy much of it since she passed away, too early at the age of 60 in 1998.
Suwanna says she would not know what to write about herself. She had a much less active past before we met. She was living with her parents and an older sister in a small teak wood house which in '84, when we met, still had no running water (in Bangkok!) and got electricity only a few years before that. Suwanna's father was at that time driving his own taxi and her mother was working at the National Museum of Thailand. Suwanna started work at the computer shop where we met straight out of University, only 3 months before I showed up. Now we have a son who will soon be six but who does not show much interest in plants, yet he does like to help in our nursery sometimes. For him robots and computers are much more important.
Suwanna handles all matters about the waterlilies and the other ornamental plants. I only run the company, take care of packing the plants for export, communication etc. Suwanna's "ICU", where she plants all the very small offspring, is close to our home (about 600 meters) and easy to look after. Our ponds are located about 200km north of Bangkok and Suwanna can spend only every other weekend there.
Our ponds are located "in the middle of nowhere". The area was previously used as rice fields. Because we ran out of space in our ponds we had to utilize irrigation ditches in fruit orchards, located next to our ponds and owned by relatives, to grow waterlilies. These ditches have a depth of over 150cm (over 5ft) and only certain waterlilies will grow there well. In general the hardy types grow quite well here but some don't flower as much as they would in cooler climes. This is no problem for us since our aim is fast reproduction for export. Highest in demand are 'Fire Crest', 'Fabiola', tetragona and Kenya Yellow (a local name, which is probably 'Moorei').
The Gaide's Opal Horticulture