An ardent gardener turns an unused rooftop into a lush garden

IT all began as a passion in gardening.
1Utama Shopping Centre director Datuk Teo Chiang Kok (right) 1Utama Shopping Centre director Datuk Teo Chiang Kok eventually turned his passion into one of the largest “secret gardens” in Southeast Asia.

The rooftop garden, called The Secret Garden, is located at 1Utama Shopping Centre. It was officially opened to the public in 2009 following a four-year trial period.

Teo’s passion for the rooftop garden was ignited by an intense flowering scene he witnessed in Australia.

With assistance from botanist and researcher Dr Francis Ng, Teo began planting and experimenting with plants that would flower throughout the year on the unused space on the rooftop of the mall.

“The idea of having a rooftop garden came from Ng. I always wanted to replicate a scene full of flowers which I saw in Australia, and so we started it here,” Teo told the New Straits Times.

During the trial period, he said, Ng discovered that charcoal-based soil was good for rooftop gardening because it was lighter than the soil used in planting.

Teo said the rooftop garden used technologies such as chilled water irrigation sourced from the mall’s air-conditioning system to grow temperate plants as well as a rainwater harvesting system to recycle rainwater for general irrigation.

Both technologies were integrated into the building, making them energy-efficient and environment-friendly, he added.

After four years of hard work, the rooftop garden now has more than 600 species of rare tropical and temperate plants, some of which are not found in this part of the world.

Perched above nine stories, the garden occupies 2,787 sq metres and is open to the public on weekends and public holidays.

“We are happy to share this gift with others. However, due to the high maintenance of the plants, we can’t afford to open the garden to the public everyday,” Teo said.

“We have to ensure that all the plants are well taken care of. At the same time, we want to go back to the main aim of having the garden, that is passion and preservation.”

The Secret Garden receives 500 to 600 visitors every weekend, from 10am to 10pm.

Ng, former deputy director-general of Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, said the rooftop garden concept was gaining popularity, especially in cities, because of space constraint.

“Going green is seen as a responsibility now. At the same time, we can’t stop building properties if we want to become a First World country.

“Therefore, many big cities are moving towards rooftop gardening, where the cities could have high-rise buildings and also preserve the environment.”

He added: “I foresee rooftop gardening becoming a trend. Instead of wasting the space on rooftops, many people have decided to plant, with some even seeking professional botanists for assistance.”

Kuala Lumpur City Hall is also encouraging more rooftop gardens in condominiums and office towers.

“We will be more than happy if the management of high-rise buildings could do more in preserving the environment by having gardens on rooftops,” said mayor Tan Sri Ahmad Fuad Ismail.

He said while a rooftop garden was a good concept, the concrete roof sometimes was not suitable for planting.

“We must consider the safety of the building before they initiate anything. For some buildings, having plants on rooftops could cause leaking due to bad building structure.”

Instead of rooftop gardens, Ahmad Fuad said City Hall encouraged more trees to be planted around the neighbourhoods.

Starting this year, City Hall has pledged to plant 30,000 trees annually.

Read more: A ‘secret heaven’ atop a mall – General – New Straits Times


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