As part of WGI's mission to draw attention
to ways water gardens
and water gardeners can contribute to the global environmental
we feature this remarkable botanical garden, one of the
world's eco-friendliest destinations!
Tropical Spice Garden
Teluk Bahang, Penang, Malaysia
by Kenneth Khoo
Click images to enlarge
Galleries - 350K - For shorter downloads, see below
In 2000, Bertam Consolidated Rubber Co. Ltd., a company involved
in palm oil estates in Malaysia, was presented with a proposal
to develop Lone Crag Villa in Teluk Bahang into a tourist attraction
showcasing exotic and endemic tropical flora, particularly focusing
on spices and herbs. The company was so impressed with the villa's
scenic hilltop setting and the jungle hidden in a valley location,
coupled with the fact that it was only minutes away from the
tourist haven of Batu Ferringhi, they decided to fund the project.
A local team was subsequently assembled to undertake the design
and development of the project which took about two years to
complete. In 2004, the project won the LAMAN Floral Garden Award
at The Malaysian International Landscape & Garden Festival
held from 17-25 July.
"In Penang the tsunami (26 December 2004)
caught the unfortunate mostly at Batu Ferringhi, Telok Bahang
and Pulau Betong. The tsunami brought the Island its biggest
loss of life, damage to property and disruption of livelihood
caused by a natural disaster in living memory: 52 persons dead,
5 missing and 206 injured; 615 houses and 1,332 boats damaged,
according to the Penang government's statistics." Khoo Boo
Teik, Alitran Monthly
Map of Malaysia
Courtesy of Bugbog.com
Map of Penang
Courtesy of Asia Explorers.com
The original site is an eight acre plot of predominantly secondary
jungle land set in a sea-facing natural valley with a living
stream bed. The existing tree cover, ranging from the softwood
Ficus heteropleura and hardwood Mesua ferrea on
the lower levels to pure stands of the red-barked mediumwood
Syzygium gratum on the upper levels, support various species
of monkeys, squirrels, birds, reptiles and insects.
The clayey loam topsoil is nutrient rich due to the accumulated
plant litter over the years and is ideal for planting. The valley's
location is of east-west orientation and affords views of the
Teluk Bahang Bay fronting the Straits of Malacca. Using the valley
as reference, remnants of a disused rubber plantation evident
from the terraces is found to the south and the villa is situated
to the north on top of a hill.
The key objective is to create awareness of the natural environment
and the importance of plants. Inspired by the intrinsic beauty
of the original site, the design is very much "site generated".
Preservation of the indigenous flora together with maintaining
the original topography is crucial to achieving this purpose.
Water is the prominent feature whereby visitors
can hear the sound of running water wherever they are, providing
a cooling and soothing experience whilst strolling and exploring
To achieve this, spring water from the living stream, powered
by a five-horsepower submersible pumping system, is circulated
throughout the garden via the many water features such as waterfalls,
man-made streams and giant pond, with the runoff eventually flowing
into the sea. This water is also used to irrigate the planted
area spanning about 4.5 acres (1.8 hectares) using a separate
gravity-feed system running through some 20 misters in addition
to hand watering.
Natural and recycled building materials are used extensively
in the construction of the built structures to harmonise with
the environment. These included Malaysian hardwoods such as chengal
batu, meranti and teak, Indian granite slabs, Indian/Chinese
clay tiles, cement tiles with floral motifs originating from
Stoke-on-Trent and Nyonya-style antique doors salvaged from pre-war
shop houses that are sourced from antique stores in Penang.
The planted area of about 4.5 acres with over 500 species/varieties
of plants is divided into three designated areas, namely the
Ornamental Trail, Spice Trail and the Jungle Trail. Photos
and Maps. These plants are used to landscape the existing
rubber terraces and the natural jungle terrain, involving minimal
earthworks to prevent soil erosion.
The focus is the Ornamental Trail, comprised of the water
and ornamental gardens. The water garden, featuring bank and
aquatic plant species, is constructed on the only flat area in
the valley making it accessible to the physically challenged.
Beyond this, in the heart of the valley is the ornamental garden
featuring flowering plants and plants with ornamental foliage
that favour growing nearby the living stream.
In the south on four disused rubber terraces lies the Spice Trail.
Here 43 rubber trees were cleared to allow more sunlight to penetrate
and make way for over 100 species of spice and herbal plants.
To its north on the hill slope the shady and quiet Jungle Trail,
with most of its original vegetation left intact, is planted
with understorey species such as ferns, wild orchids, shade loving
plants and some timber species.
Throughout the three trails are 11 themed areas featuring
special plant collections such as spices and herbs, aquatic plants,
bamboos, crotons, cycads, ferns, gingers, heliconias, jungle
plants, orchids and rare palms. To facilitate the ease of recognizing
the plants, signs have been made for most of them. In addition
to plants, numerous interesting hardscape features such as bridges,
doorways, hammocks, gazebos, pergolas, giant swing, stone walls,
and benches with viewing points have been built at transition
points between the different themed areas.
Pathways built using recycled railway sleepers, granite slabs
and lined with granite chippings or palm kernel shells link the
different themed areas and transition points. On the perimeter
of the ornamental valley lies two concrete tracks that make up
a wide pathway that connects the main gate to the Visitor Center,
and to soften the concrete, turf is planted in between the tracks.
At each junction, river pebbles are used to form decorative concentric
patterns on the concrete road. The Visitor Centre may also be
approached on foot via the jungle trail.
From the main Teluk Bahang Road, the garden is hidden by a
massive 150-foot (46 m) long dry stone wall, helped built by
a true Yorksman, measuring 7 feet in height and 2 feet in width
(2.13 m by .61 m). Six inch (15 cm) gaps punctuating the wall
at 15 foot (4.6 m) intervals were designed to give passers-by
a sneak peek of the water and ornamental gardens.
Spice Café interior
The 20th century "Straits Colonial" Lone Crag Villa
has been converted into a visitor centre with a built-up area
of about 5,500 square feet. The museum hosts collections on the
origins of the spice trade. There is also an information counter,
a gift shop and a café with a wooden decking offering
al fresco seating and sunset views beneath the sea almond tree
with more details
Tropical Spice Garden is more than just a
garden. We're a small group of environmentally and socially aware
individuals trying to make a difference.
Most of our team members come from the local community and
live within Tropical Spice Garden's neighbourhood. It's great
being able to rely on a tightly-knit, bunch of friendly neighbours!
The whole idea is to think local and get the involvement of the
local communities so most of our staff, i.e. gardeners and front
liners, are from the neighboring fishing village.
During the development of the Garden, we utilized mainly natural
and recycled building materials salvaged from pre-war shop houses
or sourced from local antique stores. After all, old is gold!
Our Garden only uses organic fertilizer and integrated pest control
methods to limit the negative impact we have on the cycle of
life. We also do our own composting as the garden generates a
lot of leaf litter. Pest control is usually done in very limited
applications. If it needs to be done it's usually late in the
evenings when visitors have left. Treatment is symptomatic and
is only resorted to when the problem has reached beyond control
We love to recycle! So please help us out by depositing your
rubbish in the appropriately marked dustbins. Generated rubbish
is divided into four categories, aluminium, plastic, paper carton,
and organic kitchen waste (which goes into composting). Waste
water generated is subjected to a grease/sump trap before it
is released to the environment. In addition we use microorganisms
to treat the trapped waste water.
There's also a large piece of driftwood in the gardens that
was washed up to the beach front on the tragic day of the tsunami
in 2004. We managed to haul it up the garden path and turn this
into a sign-posted memorial bench where every guest coming to
the gardens can give a thoughful moment to all those who endured
< Tsunami Memorial
We make it a point to deal with smaller local vendors and traders
to support their businesses and share the success. After all
what comes around, goes around and we want to play our role as
a responsible and caring organization. We practice fair trade
at the Garden and the communities we actively deal with are several
"orang asli" (indigenous people). They use plants from
the Pandanus family and weave bookmarks, make brass and bamboo
bangles, and they also supply us wooden carved items such as
miniature sculptures and puzzles. They work with beads to make
belts. We purchase these goods directly from the villages cutting
out the middle man!
We take supplies from a local centre that works with mentally
challenged adults. They run a well-organized craft centre where
the home mates learn to weave photo album covers, tissue holders
and also to make batik prints. Furthermore, we support "Community
Works" that in turn supports single mothers and HIV-positive
women. They produce lovely soap gifts packaged in tanned basket
with attractive ribbons. Supporting these various communities
brings far more value to the gifts and helps in keeping the products
unique and "soulful".
At the Café, the staff uses organic sea salt in all cooking
-- both for staff food as well as for our paying customers. We
believe it is important for the staff to stay healthy. There
are further thoughts to have our cook whip up a vegetarian meal
once a week and perhaps also to use only brown rice in the future
(more fibrous). It is our intention to phase into biodegradable
detergents soon also.
Complete 350K - for shorter downloads
Gallery 1 | Gallery 2 | Trails
- Photos and Maps
Profile - Kenneth
Tropical Spice Garden Web Site