Monday, February 18, 2013

Winter Travels 2013 - Part 2: The Secret Garden at 1 Utama Shopping Centre, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

I was first made aware of the existence of this gem of a public garden by Autumn Bell on her blog My Nice Garden. Since reading about it there I have visited the place in person twice and it may well be my favorite garden-related attraction in the wider Kuala Lumpur area. As implied by its name, it is indeed a bit hidden, incongruously located on the roof of a gargantuan shopping mall. Accessing the garden involves finding the correct elevator in the somewhat labyrinthine - and often very crowded - shopping center and riding it all the way to the roof. There are some signs to guide the visitor but they are not the most conspicuous. Perhaps that is for the better, though, because despite the hustle-and-bustle of the mall below visitor numbers at the garden seem to be relatively low and as a result it remains a serene and tranquil space.

Palms and myriad shrubs and tall perennials in the entrance area of the garden

The bread flower (Vallaris glabra), known as kesidang or kerak nasi in Malay, fills the entrance area of the garden with its strong fragrance; to some it smells like bread - hence the English name - or scorched rice - the latter Malay name refers to this - but to me the scent is most reminiscent of pandan (Pandanus amaryllifolius)

Canary date palm (Phoenix canariensis) amongst lush foliage

Gigantic Alocasia macrorrhizos

Another massive tropical aroid (Typhonodorum lindleyanum) in one of the water features

Once one is in the garden, it is almost hard to believe that one is in fact on the roof of a building. Numerous trees and large shrubs as well as vines trained on poles and pergolas envelope the visitor almost completely. There is even a series of meandering ponds hidden amongst the foliage, crossed by little bridges and fed by a waterfall-style fountain. Passing by this particular feature and crossing one of the small bridges, one reaches a long pergola which connects the first section of the garden to a second larger area. It is completely covered by a peculiar creeper which sends out curtains of thousands of very thin areal roots of shimmering red and pink. The effect is surreal to say the least.

The waterfall

The pergola with the mysterious climber

Clerodendrum wallichii

One of many winding paths

The exceedingly lovely Habranthus gracilifolius

The area immediately past the root-hung passage is dedicated primarily to plants that require some shade. A maze of pathways of various sizes wind through latticed bowers sheltering carpets of begonias, aroids, and much else besides, alongside Clerodendrums, orchids, and many other treasures.

Some form of Curcuma

Under one of the lattice shelters

Clerodendrum ugandense

An orange orchid of the Vanda alliance

Balsam (Impatiens balsamina)

Around and between the shade houses there are many more flowering plants ranging from the rare to the everyday, including quite a few that one would not expect in the lowland tropics, such as hydrangeas and tulip magnolias.

Broadleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

A white double form of butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea)

Vigorous pink oleander (Nerium oleander)

Jasminum multiflorum

Stropanthus gratus

Finally, there is a sizeable area devoted primarily to useful plants - fruit trees of regions tropical and temperate, grains like rice and millet, spices like ginger and black pepper, but also rows of tea and coffee plants of various varieties. This does not mean, however, that this part of the garden is not decorative - in fact, it is just as lush and beautiful as the rest of the place.

View towards the area dedicated to useful plants

Flowers of a tea shrub (Camellia sinensis)

Some form of millet

What is so impressive about the Secret Garden, apart from the sheer diversity of plants on display, is its impeccable state of cultivation. The entire garden is extremely well tended and almost all the plants are impressively healthy and vigorous. This is truly a plant lover's paradise, and no doubt this has something to do with the involvement of veteran botanist and horticulturist Francis Ng with the garden. The author of the truly encyclopedic Tropical Horticulture & Gardening, he also blogs here.


  1. What an amazing, exotic looking place! Would love to visit this beautiful garden one day :)

  2. A stunning garden! Difficult to believe that it's on the roof of a mall! Truly wonderful. Thanks for this post, it warmed my morning!

  3. I can only imagine the incredible scents. Thanks for warming up my bones...only 59F here today!


Thanks for stopping by!