Garden Asia Asia's Premier Gardening Magazine
Wednesday, 08 April 2020
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Volume 15
Feature Garden

Tropical Modernity


ImageWe left the comforts of cosmopolitan Kuala Lumpur to travel northwards to Sungai Petani, Kedah for this issue’s Feature Garden. The name Sungai Petani hardly conjures the image of highly sophisticated houses and gardens, but we were in for a surprise. We knew that the house and garden, owned by Tuan Haji Ismail Lalkhan, was designed by KL architects and a prominent landscape design company. Our expectations were high...

But the day was not agreeing with us. It had been pouring rain from the moment we set foot in Sungai Petani, and our lunch hour was extended to three as we waited for the heavens to abate.When the rains finally ceased, we made our way to the location of our Feature Garden. We headed to the Cinta Sayang Golf Club, which is a mere 5km from the sleepy town, and is also an upmarket neighbourhood. Passing houses that could have rivalled any in Bangsar or Damansara in terms of over-the-top ostentation and size, I held my breath. ‘Please let it be beautiful’, I thought.

Garden Gallery

The Gates of Peradeniya


ImageTravelling through the winding roads of the Sri Lankan countryside had become the ‘order of the day’ for me. Our travel group had spent most of the week in and out of hotels and buses, watching the colourful scenery pass us by. And so the ascent to the cool hill regions of the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ was just another journey. Yet, even stunted by decades of civil war, the country most famous for its tea and semi-precious jewels opened up to us, waiting to be discovered. This leg of our tour brought us to Kandy, the last stronghold of the ancient kings of Ceylon, and onwards to Peradeniya – the home of one of the oldest (182 years old) and greatest botanical gardens in Asia. The culmination of our travels was a pleasant surprise. This jewel of botanical gardens was the main reason for our journey to Sri Lanka. More specifically, it was the garden’s palm collection that proved irresistible to us, especially since we are featuring palms in this issue of Garden Asia.

The Royal Botanic Garden, as it is also known, has a great pedigree among botanical gardens of the world. Its beginnings, curators, collection of species and the role it has played and continues to play in the botanical world adds to the prestige of the place. It is approximately 147 acres large, therefore not a small garden by any means. Imposing gates at the entrance ensures the visitor’s awe and reverence. Once inside, the hectic hustle and bustle that is Kandy seems to fade away, almost as if a radio were suddenly turned off. The lush mature vegetation perpetuates the timeless essence of Peradeniya. Its towering trees speak of a hundred years or more, and the unbroken peace of the highland mist evokes an ethereal calmness in the surroundings.

Garden Flora & Fauna

Palms of Malaysia


ImageOne of the characteristic plants often associated with the tropics are the palm. They are almost instantly recognisable by their pleated feather or fan shaped leaves, not common with other groups of plants. To the uninitiated they can sometimes be confused with the cycads and some tree ferns. Both of these groups have also feather-shaped leaves but never pleated. Bearing no flowers, they are quite different groups of primitive plants. Worldwide there are about 2,700 species in about 200 genera of palms (Uhl & Dransfield 1987). They are mostly found in the tropical and subtropical regions. They are most diverse in the ever-humid tropics of South and Central America and Southeast Asia to the West Pacific (Dransfield 1988). In a country like Malaysia, the diversity is especially high totalling over 410 species i.e. it has about 15% of the world’s total, probably with the highest diversity per unit area in the world.

Palms are one of the most widely used plants in landscaping in the tropics. Palms are especially popular because of their very attractive architecture. Their unusual leaf shape, sizes and very specific growth habits have attracted a great many people around the world and they are often admired and grown for their beauty. In the tropics particularly, palms are ever present in the urban landscape. They are used in a wide variety of plantings and it is almost impossible to see an area properly landscaped without the use of palms. The volume of trade is notable, Holland, for example, imported 120,000 kg of seeds of Dypsis lutescens in 1992, one of the most commonly traded ornamental palms. The seeds were produced mainly from nurseries in Brazil. Again because of their unique   features, palms have a large following amongst gardeners and enthusiasts and there are also numerous palm societies in the world.

Garden Science

Watering the Plants


ImageWater is vital for the survival of all living things. Herbaceous plants need water particularly more so as the water content in them is >90%. A loss of about 5% can lead to the visual shriveling of the plants. Since under– and over-watering can kill your plants, it is important to know when and how to water.

Although we are in the region of high rainfall, depending solely on rain to water your plants is a big mistake. More often than not, supplemental irrigation is required in most planting areas even in humid and high rainfall areas like Malaysia, due to the occasional hot and dry periods that usually occur. Plant life needs water for photosynthesis, which is the process that gives the source of energy for plant growth and development. Deficient or excessive amount of water in the soil will decrease the rate of photosynthesis. 

Therefore, it is important that plants are watered properly to ensure that the water reaches the plant’s root system for efficient photosynthesis processes. Plants should be watered when needed, and determining whether a plant needs watering or not can be tested through a simple test. Let the finger do the work by sticking your index finger 3 to 6cm in the soil. If the soil is dry to touch, water and if it is moist, hold off. The colour of the soil can also be a good indicator as moist soil is usually darker compared to the dry soil found on the soil line. Another rule is to water in cool, early mornings or evenings. Never water the plants at high noon because the plants are transpiring excessively at this time. Transpiring is the way plants perspire and deal with the sun, temperature, wind and relative humidity. Therefore, most of the water given at this time will evaporate even before the plant can use it.


Madam Wong Siew Inn


ImageIf Garden Asia readers refer to Volume 13, you will remember that we had a reader write in to tell us about her paintings. Her brochure showed paintings of plants and flowers, which of course caught our attention. Her second letter gave a vivid description of her garden, and the fact that this became her inspiration to paint beautiful flowers made us feel that this was a personality we had to meet up with.

Madam Wong is past 80 years of age, yet the enthusiasm we felt while talking to her over the phone was bubbly and infectious. So off we went to Penang Island to meet up with her. She greeted us at the gate of her single story house and ushered us into the living room, in which hung a number of paintings she had executed in her younger days.Despite suffering from a bad case of arthritis she insisted on preparing us tea and cookies. While waiting for her, I browsed through her collection of books and discovered that she had an amazing number of books on plants and gardens, some of them first editions! Obviously the artist made sure she knew her plant species. We were captivated with her style of painting and ability to capture the essence of each species, giving her work the character of Impressionist art. Extremely curious as to how this sweet, simple, ‘un-arty’ looking person came about to putting paint onto canvas (I actually have secret aspirations of becoming an artist!), we sat down to ask her story.

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