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Case Study Series: Kebun-Kebun Bangsar

A panoramic view of Kebun-Kebun Bangsar

Kebun-Kebun Bangsar is a community garden in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. It is on a small, linear piece of land flanked by houses on both sides. The community garden was initiated by Ng Seksan, a landscape architect, back in 2013. It took the founding team several years to get permission from authorities to use the land. As the team built the garden, it received funds from nearby residents and Think City, a Malaysia-based organisation that aims to make cities more people-friendly, resilient and liveable.

Kebun-Kebun Bangsar is managed and maintained by volunteers. It is open daily to the public, and no admission fee is charged. The garden is planted with vegetables, fruits and herbs that are given to underprivileged groups including refugees, orphanages and homeless people. It is equipped with walkways, chairs and tables to allow visitors to enjoy the garden comfortably. There are also farm animals such as geese, ducks, chickens, sheep and cows, and visitors can buy feed for them.

Since the garden is a non-profit initiative, it was sustained solely by the donations at first. After the animals were introduced, the garden tried to generate additional income by selling animal feed to visitors. This soon has become an important financial resource.

Planting plots full of vegetables
People feeding the farm animals

Success Factors of a Community Garden

As it approaches its third year, Kebun-Kebun Bangsar is gaining popularity among the public. Not only has it become a tourist hotspot, it also inspires other urban communities to create such spaces in their residential areas.

Here are some of the success factors that keep the garden moving forward.

The garden serves as a great place for learning and sharing information. Because of its strategic location, urban dwellers can reach Kebun-Kebun Bangsar easily and meet others who share an interest in farming. There are also experts and organisations that can provide guidance and support in planting crops.

Two young volunteers helping with maintenance work at the garden

Volunteering at Kebun-Kebun Bangsar is a fulfilling and meaningful experience. The garden grows food for needy people. All produce is given free to soup kitchens or welfare agencies so that underprivileged communities can have the chance to eat fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables. 

The garden is friendly to visitors of all ages. Children love to play with the animals. They also enjoy exploring different parts of the garden. Adults are charmed by pretty flowers, the tranquil atmosphere and picturesque scenery.

A plot that demonstrates paddy planting. Visitors, including children, can learn how to grow food in the garden.

Challenges and Solutions

Managing a community garden is not without its trials, and the garden has its share of technical and operational challenges. As Kebun-Kebun Bangsar is community-based, it relies largely on volunteers to operate and function. Getting sufficient hands is challenging as volunteers tend to come and go. Therefore, finding new and dedicated volunteers is an ongoing issue for sustaining the garden.

Then, while the farm animals were generally popular, at one point, there were complaints from neighbouring residents who were bothered by the noise and smells produced by the animals. Kebun-Kebun Bangsar was ordered to remove them, and the farm animals were then relocated to a different section of the garden.

A cow tethered and kept at the garden.

Finally, Kebun-Kebun Bangsar practices organic farming, so volunteers have to put extra care into cultivating plants. They need to think of alternative solutions to chemicals when the plants are attacked by pests or diseases. This requires technical advice and support to ensure successful gardening. 

Making a Community Garden Sustainable

Sustaining a community garden is not easy. It is important to have a core group of volunteers that are willing to help and complement one another. Each volunteer has his or her own strength. Some are good at planting, some help to attract new visitors, and others contribute money, time and/or energy to maintain the garden. Then there are the people who manage and coordinate volunteering works.  

Events and activities help secure financial resources and attract potential volunteers. Before Movement Control Orders (MCO), Kebun-Kebun Bangsar held fundraising concerts and workshops that taught composting, planting and organic farming. People who attended the events would get a chance to know the garden and eventually become regular visitors, volunteers or funders. The garden also serves as an event space to organise gatherings, potlucks and meetings.   

The fundraising concert poster

The garden is ever-evolving. There are always new projects coming up. For example, the herb garden and pizza oven are some of the recent works contributed by volunteers. Such dynamic is a key factor that keeps people visiting the garden again and again for new experiences.

Visitors at the herb garden of Kebun-Kebun Bangsar

A garden like Kebun-Kebun Bangsar demonstrates creative use of green spaces in cities. It is a place where urban dwellers can form communities and connect with the environment.

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Case Study Series

Case Study Series: Elmina Rainforest Knowledge Centre (ERKC)

A front view of Elmina Rainforest Knowledge Centre (ERKC)

The Tropical Rainforest Conservation & Research Centre (TRCRC) operates the Elmina Rainforest Knowledge Centre (ERKC) in the City of Elmina of Sime Darby Properties. Together with the Endangered, Rare and Threatened (ERT) Native Tree Nursery, ERKC is located within the 300-acre Central Park in the City of Elmina and is connected to the 2,700-acre Subang Lake Dam Forest Reserve.

From its city base, ERKC aims to connect communities within and beyond the City of Elmina to Malaysia’s natural heritage. The centre is to be used for environmental education, conservation, research and development, eco-tourism and other nature-related activities. There will be workshops and hands-on interactive classes for residents, students and the public to learn about tropical rainforests, wildlife and tree planting.   

Meanwhile, the ERT Tree Nursery aims to nurture up to 100,000 tree species listed as ‘threatened’ in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The nursery is a living collection of native trees. The trees are grown from seeds sourced from various forest reserves and private lands. The entire process of sourcing and rearing trees is part of the nursery’s conservation and reforestation endeavours, beginning with seed collection. The ground team (also known as G-team) of TRCRC will look for suitable locations with mature trees to secure the seed source. As the trees flower and fruit, the team collects seeds and bring them to the nursery. The seeds are then germinated and kept as seedlings in TRCRC’s living collection nurseries. Seedlings are categorised, sorted and labelled.  

Behind the signboard and oil palms are young trees of endangered species
Seedling labels include name, conservation status, location and date of collection.

Since TRCRC focuses on conservation of dipterocarp species (one of the main tree species group that makes up Malaysia’s lowland rainforests), there are many dipterocarp trees and seedlings in the nursery. One of the examples is the keruing bulu (Dipterocarpus baudii) which is currently listed as ‘vulnerable’ in the wild. Besides the dipterocarps, there are other native endangered species such as merbau (Intsia bijuga). Some species are endemic, that is, their populations are solely confined to a specific region or a certain type of environment. Many of these trees lose their habitats when forests are cleared. Some of these trees are rescued and preserved, eventually to be replanted in their place of origin to restore their populations and reconnect forest fragments.

Seedlings of merbau (Intsia bijuga). The seed coat of this tree is hard and needs to go through a process of scarification to promote germination.

The nursery not only houses endangered trees but also fast-growing pioneer tree species. These fast-growing trees help to create a nursing canopy in areas earmarked for reforestation. The existence of a canopy enables other trees to establish, especially those that require shade when they are young. There are also wild fruit trees such as wild durian (Durio sp.), malay apple (Syzygium malaccense) and Terengganu cherry (Lepisanthes alata). These trees provide food for animals in the forest.

Seedlings of Terengganu cherry, which is also known as Rambai istana
Seedlings of wild durian

The trees in the nursery will eventually be used for forest restoration. The selection of species for restoration depends on land conditions, existing species and the availability of tree stocks. A preliminary study of the reforestation site is carried out to create a planting plan. Replanting effort involves a wide range of stakeholders including government agencies, other environmental NGOs, private sectors and local communities. One of TRCRC’s ongoing projects is Nestle Malaysia’s Project RELeaf — a reforestation initiative that aims to plant three million trees in Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia in the next three years.

A collection of wild fruit trees and fast-growing seedlings in the nursery

With TRCRC’s knowledge, expertise and experience, ERKC will be a great place to learn about the dipterocarp trees in Malaysia’s tropical rainforests, and most importantly, ways to protect and conserve them.  

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Case Study Series

Case Study Series: Free Tree Society’s Bangsar Nursery

Free Tree Society Kuala Lumpur is a non-profit environmental organisation that spreads environmental stewardship messages through giving away trees for free. Its flagship nursery is located in cosmopolitan Bangsar amidst the backdrop of a former rubber estate, now the Pulai Trail and the last of the area’s green lungs. This nursery is a place for conducting gardening activities, classes, workshops, meetings and so on. It houses about 5000 plants for giving away, and is a perfect place to learn about plants, animals, sustainable gardening and natural environment.

A bird’s eye view of Free Tree Society Bangsar Nursery

Existing wildlife 

There are a number of wild animals that can be found at the nursery. A wide array of insects is observed: stingless bees, honey bees, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, damselflies, beetles etc. Some larger animals visit the nursery as well. For example, spiders, four-lined tree frog, common toad, monitor lizard, bronzeback snake, green pigeon and squirrels. 

A butterfly is resting on the leaf of a plant in the nursery

A leaf-eating grasshopper on the big leaf of a Calathea plant

Key elements of attracting wild animals

Animals need food, shelter and water to survive. All these resources are available at the nursery. The garden is full of plants and remains some degree of wilderness. The fruits and flowers are reserved for the animals. Leaf piles or rocks of different shapes, overturned flower pots and rotting wood provide shelter for animals to lay eggs or hide themselves. These garden visitors can quench their thirst at the wildlife pond next to the entrance of the nursery. There is no use of chemical at the nursery so that the animals can live freely and safely. 

The wildlife pond is home for many aquatic animals

Flowers of Kemunting (Rhodomyrtus tomentosa) plant

These bricks are placed under plants to provide shelter for small animals

The nursery is a good example of pollinator gardening, as there are many types of pollinators in the garden. From all sorts of insects to birds and mammals e.g. bats, these pollinators enjoy savouring nectar and pollen of flowers in the nursery. Some examples of nectar-providing plants at the nursery are Costus speciosus, Antigonon leptopus, Heliconia sp., Begonia sp., Murraya sp., Alpinia sp. and different varieties of orchid. It is also important to have some host plants in the garden so that the juveniles of moths and butterflies get enough food.

Flowering shoot of a spiral ginger (Costus speciosus)

Figs and palms are very useful plants as they provide food for a variety of animals in the city. Some of the common palm trees such as coconut tree (Cocos nucifera) and lipstick palm (Cyrtostachys renda) bear nectar-rich flowers and edible fruits. Both the flowers and fruits are important food source for birds and other pollinators or fruit-eating animals. Local fig plants such as weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) also provide food for insects and birds.

A clump of lipstick palms (Cyrtostachys renda) in the middle of nursery

Sustaining and establishing biodiversity in small urban gardens

No garden is too small. We can add greenery to our cities by growing plants at our own houses. There are many types of green spaces in the city. However, the most common one is the balcony garden, which is often exposed to direct sunlight and strong wind. We can overcome these limitations by having some big, bushy plants. These plants provide shade for other smaller plants. They also act as natural windbreaks to protect other plants from high winds. We need to understand the conditions of our garden. Then, we can try to create suitable microclimates by growing plants that can survive under such conditions.

Tall, shrubby plants provide shade for other shade-loving plants. 

To keep the plants healthy, practice composting and feed the plants with sufficient nutrients so that they are resistant to pests and diseases. We can regulate the nutrient inputs by adding different materials to the compost. For example, egg shells are rich in calcium while banana peels supply both organic materials and minerals such as sodium and magnesium. Although often being overlooked, soil health is an important factor that determines the success of an urban garden. We can start establishing soil biodiversity by introducing earthworms. They are good at improving soil structure and fertility.