As part of WGI's mission to draw attention to ways water gardens
and water gardeners can contribute to the global environmental effort,
we feature this remarkable botanical garden, one of the
world's eco-friendliest destinations!

Tropical Spice Garden
Teluk Bahang, Penang, Malaysia

by Kenneth Khoo
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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

Map of Penang
Courtesy of Asia

Original Site

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.   

Design Concept

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 the garden.

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 Garden

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

Visitor Centre

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 canopy. 



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 by pruning.

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 the disaster.

< 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. 

Photo Galleries with more details
Complete 350K - for shorter downloads
Gallery 1 | Gallery 2 | Trails - Photos and Maps

Profile - Kenneth Khoo

Tropical Spice Garden Web Site

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