Inside Secret Garden 1-Utama
Malaysian garden writer and award-winning blogger Elaine Yim will be giving a guided tour of Kuala Lumpur’s Secret Garden of 1-Utama as part of our Singapore Garden Festival & Malaysia tour with Liz Bishop. We asked her to tell us a bit more about this hidden green gem.
ECT: What is the Secret Garden of 1-Utama?
EY: Situated seven floors above the Utama shopping mall in a space that would have been a car park, it is the largest rooftop garden in South East Asia. It was designed by the award-winning botanist Dr Francis S.P. NG, who still manages the garden today using eco-friendly methods such as recycled water and biochar soil [charcoal produced from plant matter and used as a powerful, carbon-holding soil enhancer]. There are more than 500 species of plants here.
ECT: And why it is called the ‘Secret Garden’?
EY: Because its existence was only revealed when the garden was officially opened to the public on 25th May 2009. The whole thing had been planned and created in complete secrecy.
ECT: How did you first discover it?
EY: I’d heard about the opening so, one day when I was out shopping at 1 Utama, I decided to go up and take a look. I stepped out of the lift straight into this garden. It was awe-inspiring. There were shrubs, conifer and palm trees, vines, herbs, aquatic plants and epiphytes and most of them were flowering. There was a pond with the world’s largest water lily growing in it – I could see dragonflies and damselflies perched on its floating leaves, while little guppies swam happily in and out of the tangled stems. Nearby, an Australian willow hung gracefully against a backdrop of water cascading down a waterfall and I could hear birds chirping and bees buzzing from flower to flower. Even temperate plants like hydrangea, pear and camellia, which don’t usually grow well in our equatorial climate, seemed to be doing well. I was so inspired that I went back to 1 Utama every weekend and instead of shopping, spent hours in the garden taking pictures of the plants, flowers and fruits for my blog, My Nice Garden.
ECT: Can you give us your top three highlights?
EY: 1. It’s a valuable gift to the public. The garden serves as a peaceful sanctuary where every one can spend some time away from the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy the calm, serene atmosphere of a real garden where you can ‘smell the roses’, breathe fresh air and re-energise mind, body and soul. It is also an experiential learning garden. Everything is properly labelled with the scientific name, common name and country of origin and visitors can see how plants are grown in a variety of conditions and places, from the ground to hydroponics and vertical walled gardens.
2. It’s eco-friendly (no harmful pesticides or chemicals are used here) and accessible to everyone. Admission is free and the garden has been designed to accommodate push chairs and wheelchairs.
3. It’s full of indigenous plants such as ground orchids, the jungle banana of Peninsular Malaysia and herb plants, ferns and fruit trees of Malaysia and Borneo, so if you want to learn about this country’s plants, all you have to do is take the lift up to the roof of 1 Utama.
Find our more about our Singapore Garden Festival & Malaysia programme here