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Exporting Malaysian Culture in a Garden

Do you want a garden for your home? And why? If so, what do you think a garden consists of?

These may seem very straightforward questions but underlying the answers are clues about how we, as a nation, view ourselves. In other words, our perception towards gardens is an indication of national identity.

Quite a stretch of imagination, isn’t it? Just the way we plan our garden says something about our idea of national identity? Does tiling up the whole porch area make someone unpatriotic? If we decide to have a waterfall, what does it mean?

Well, before you go off planning your garden and outdoor living space, it might

be interesting to consider how a garden is an artistic reflection of a culture.

History of Malaysian horticulture

The history of horticultural pursuits in Malaysia is a short one, borrowed mainly from colonial influences, and evolving in a haphazard fashion heavily dependent on utilitarian concerns, the resources available and a misguided trend of copying foreign styles. It is not inaccurate then to associate the current Malaysian garden with homemade koi ponds, neat cow grass lawns, and fruit trees.

In urban areas, the local authorities and government departments have successful spurred the horticultural industry and cultivated a plant-loving society as a national landscaping effort. The past decade saw an emergence of a new sensitivity to landscaping styles especially among premier housing developers, displaying an array of designs from Balinese garden influences to Japanese Zen garden replicas, all lumped under the umbrella term of tropical garden style.

Extending cement all over the lawn is normal in our local landscaping scene, using the space for an extra car. Some prefer big koi ponds, occupying more than half their garden space. Yet others prefer simple neat lawns and potted plants that wouldn’t demand much time and energy to manage. Why are we still trapped into thinking of old ways when we have so much of potentials with the artistic ideas in the treasure of our very own cultural history to improvise?

So isn’t it timely as we approach our 63rd Merdeka Day that we are matured and

confident enough to set our own direction, or at least, start planning to create a garden

theme that truly reflects our culture?

For us Malaysians, to understand and create a garden of our own, sometimes it is

best to view it from a different perspective, especially culturally and geographically.

Giardina 2005

Back in 2005, our team participated in Switzerland’s biggest garden and lifestyle

exhibition, the Giardina Zurich 2005 in March. The exhibition showcased the latest

European garden trends and typically attracts visitors from all over the continent. It was the first time a Malaysian company participated in such a prestigious horticulture event. We set up a booth there displaying Malaysian garden designs, including a Malacca-style pavilion besides other Malaysian art and craft.

What made it a historical moment, however, was not so much that we participated, but that for the first time, Malaysia had a distinct identity in a garden theme that is far apart from other well-known tropical themes like Japanese or Balinese. Malaysia, it seems, represents a very exotic and misunderstood part of Asia for many Europeans and their response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic in learning more of our culture through our garden concept.

Although the “face” of the Malaysian garden presented at an international platform, like a foetus is still young, but in time it will grow and develop.

Giardina provided a good gauge of the vast potential Malaysia has in creating products or brands with a strong cultural identity. Imagine a garden style that is aesthetically pleasing, highly functional and adaptable, and instantly recognizable as truly Malaysian – that is what we want to create.

And from understanding how westerners regard gardens and outdoor living, we

can too begin to understand our own attitudes.

For example, while Westerners design their gardens so that sunny spots are

valued, we Malaysians prefer shade instead. The western climate revolves around four

seasons so for them, watching flowers bloom in all their glory in the spring thaw or

watching trees turn golden in autumn is an experience all by itself, that makes up a large

segment of their outdoor living experience.

We cannot hope to understand how intrinsically the four seasons affect Western

perception towards nature but we can delve into our own motivations.

We all know Malaysia is a melting pot of so many distinct cultures, and from this

diversity of influences, a new one emerges and evolves, based on many factors, that can

only be described as truly Malaysian. It is this amalgamation of many cultures that Malaysian garden is based upon, deriving its inspiration in creating a garden showcase.

What is outdoor living to us? What is our culture? With our constant sunshine all

year round, how do we perceive nature? No doubt, therein lies the answers as to our

identity, and ultimately, our interpretation of a Malaysian garden – built by Malaysians

for Malaysians. We welcome ideas and are willing to share our expertise and research

with interested parties in pursuing this agenda.

Sirih junjung bunga pinang,

Dihias indah cantik ditatang,

Tradisi kita dilupa jangan,

Adat dikendong budaya dijulang.

Salam Muhibah, Malaysia Prihatin…

Happy Merdeka to all Malaysians!

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