Friday, 1 July 2011

creating paradise from scratch

I thought it would be interesting to showcase the transformation of the garden from nothing to something. The whole process has taken me more than a month, mainly because I am only able to tend to the garden on weekends. Although most of the planting has been carried out, the garden is still very much work in progress because there are still some empty pockets plus it takes times before the plants to establish and “grow out”. Anyway, part of the fun of gardening is to add new plants from time to time, so one shouldn’t be too eager to fill it up.

The process started from the removal and replacement of the soil in the entire garden. Adhering to the advice of garden experts, I replaced about 1ft deep of soil throughout the entire garden. Mr Lee (from World Farm) who has been providing me with invaluable assistance and advice organised the transportation of levelling soil. In all, the garden needed about 7 ten tonne truckloads of levelling soil. I also ordered 5 jumbo bags of good quality mixed soil from Mr Lee and this was to be used when planting the larger trees and plants. Once the soil works were completed, the next stage was to transport all my plants from the old place. It’s amazing how I managed to pack everything into the old place, because it took all of 5 truck-loads to ship everything across. However, things were a little disorganised and chaotic at the point of dis-embarkation which resulted in plants being strewn all over the garden in a haphazard fashion. This increased my stress levels considerably as I had to work out where some of the more “precious” ones were located. I started to consolidate the plants into various locations based on 2 considerations; species and light/heat requirements. The ones which were more heat and light sensitive such as ferns, orchids, some costuses and alpinias had to be kept under a make-shift shade cloth area. The rest were pretty much at the mercy of the sun, especially at noon.

The next stage was the sourcing and buying of trees and other plants. I got my supply from World Farm in the end with much help from my friend Guan who works there. World Farm has been very helpful to the point where they would even deliver plants which I order through email even without me having to pay for them first. When choosing the trees, the 3 keywords I had in mind were “jungle”, “native”, biodiversity”. Essentially, I wanted to create a somewhat natural jungle paradise with a good mix palm trees, native plants, gingers, bromeliads, ferns and my all time favourite, costuses. To-date, I have more than 40 costus species and hybrids and plan on increasing this collection. I love costuses because they have lush foliage, possess beautiful spiralling forms, are extremely hardy and dead easy to maintain and cultivate. Plus, they are still relatively new as a landscape plant with only C. Woodsonii, C. Green Mountain, C. Osae and C. Curvibracteatus being used mostly.

I also wanted to go native not just because they are attractive and promote and encourage bio-diversity but also because a lot of them are under threat or are endangered due to rapid development and urbanisation. Plants like the Dillenia suffroticosa provide both shelter and food to a whole host of animals and birds. They are also a good ‘filler” for the garden and are quick and easy to grow. Other native plants and trees include the Tembusu (Fagrea fragrans), various ferns, the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum), Dillenia grandiflora and these 2 young native trees which I have not managed to ID yet. These two, along with the Singapore Rhododendron were found growing in the garden before construction, so I decided to save them. I also uprooted a white form of the Singapore Rhododendron but sadly, it did not survive.

The last keyword is biodiversity. I wanted a garden which promoted and supported biodiversity. To this end, I grew plants which encourage would attract butterflies, nectar-loving birds, changeable lizards and various other insects, birds and mammals.

In terms of structure, the idea I had in mind was to create layers or different sections in the long garden; from modern and minimalist to general flowering shrubs followed a bromeliad section and a section for shade-loving plants such as licuala grandis, tree ferns and various gingers. The last section is the back garden where the tall trees and palms can be found, along with the majority of the costus, rare and exotic heliconias, calatheas, musas and much more. There are also 2 other sections located within the back garden; a section for fruit trees, herbs and vegetables and the other is a giant cage-like structure to house all my hanging plants like tillandsias and hoyas, as well as orchids and a nursery for young plants which I intend to cultivate.

Given that i’m a one-man show, progress will naturally be somewhat slow and I suppose the garden will perpetually be work-in-progress. But I think that is what gardening is all about and that’s what I enjoy about it.


  1. Wow wow wow. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  2. Amazing! Thanks for sharing. U write well and your photography is also great!