Sunday, February 24, 2013

Winter Travels 2013 - Part 3: Fraser's Hill, Malaysia

Fraser's Hill, or Bukit Fraser, as it is officially called in Malay, is a tiny hill station located in the Titiwangsa Mountains, not too far from Kuala Lumpur. The area is noticeably cooler than the steamy lowlands between the mountains and the coast, which is of course one of the main reasons that a hill station was established there in the first place. As a result of the mild and wet climate, the vegetation is a luxuriant mix of tropical and temperate species, and the lush rainforest that surrounds the hamlet on all sides appears constantly ready to swallow back up the sparse buildings.

Selamat Datang Ke Bukit Fraser - Welcome to Fraser's Hill!

 The town square with its tiny clock tower

Lots of flowers in the town center

Plantings by the side of the street

The road winding away into the rainforest

The ascent to Fraser's Hill requires driving up a narrow serpentine road that winds its way through lush jungle, the composition of the vegetation slowly changing with increasing elevation gigantic tree ferns and towering bamboos become more and more common. Apart from beautiful plants, there is other wildlife also - we saw at least two different species of monkey observing us from the edge of the road! Once there, we had a picnic in a small pavilion in a grove of Southeast Asian pines (Pinus merkusii) followed by a stroll around the minuscule town center which was quite literally dampened by rain showers.

View over the golf course that abuts the town square

A beautiful rain-speckled hybrid tea rose

A flower - some sort of gesneriad perhaps? - that was growing out of cracks in retaining walls throughout the area

A pale pink Hibiscus rosa-sinensis

No damaging the plants!

After touring the tiny town proper and driving around the area a bit we had lunch at Ye Olde Smokehouse. The food was nothing to write home about but the peaceful colonial-style setting was lovely indeed. While lovingly decorated, the place was hardly immaculate; both the building and the garden were showing clear signs of age and of the effects of the perpetually wet climate. However, as is often the case in such places, that was really part of the charm.

At the entrance

A swing in the garden

The nicest Tibouchina specimen I have ever seen

An epiphytic orchid flowering in the garden - perhaps some species of Coelogyne?

Azaleas

On the terrace

One of the fragrant bouquets inside

After lunch - and with the showers having abated a bit - we spent some more time exploring the area. Apart from the various lodges, company retreats, and private homes scattered in the hilly jungle, there is also a small lake on which one can ride boats - we did not - next to a small, somewhat forlorn nursery and a Hindu temple. In addition to all sorts of flowers, the nursery grows strawberries, which do not exactly thrive in lowland Malaysia and are therefore very much identified with highland regions in this part of the world.

View across the little boating lake

Eucrosia bicolor, a pretty flowering bulb that had been completely unknown to me prior to this trip

A look into the nursery

A very small - and very yellow - Impatiens at the nursery

Beautiful Brugmansia

Luckily, Fraser's Hill will likely remain as small and somewhat forlorn as it is now, for the government has ruled out further development of forest land in the area. I, for my part, want to explore more (former) hill stations now - Cameron Highlands, Shimla, Darjeeling... There are so many to discover!

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.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Flowers and Happiness

My table this morning with some early Valentine's Day orchids from my love...


... Life is good... :)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Winter Travels 2013 - Part 1: KLCC Park, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

As seems to happen every time, it has taken me a while since getting back from my last trip to get around to posting about the things I got to see. There is sorting through the bajilion pictures I took, and then there is school which had me busy again almost as soon as I arrived, all while still rather jetlagged. But now at last things are settling back into routine, so here we go. Up first is the KLCC Park in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, right at the foot of the famous Petronas Twin Towers. It was designed by the famous Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, one of the grand masters of modernist landscape design, and is one of few works of his outside the Americas as well as one of his last major projects. Though a bit tamer perhaps than some of his more famous Brazilian parks and gardens, it nevertheless combines lush tropical exuberance with clean, modern lines.

View  from within the park towards the Twin Towers

Thunbergia grandiflora

Plantings at the edge of the park

A small flowering shrub - Can someone identify it?

One of the pools, with metal whale and dolphin sculptures

A two-tone canna cultivar (Canna indica)

Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides)

So much for a start to the tropical excursion... More to follow soon!