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Duration: 59 minutes

Ethnobotanist and garden designer, James Wong travels to Malaysia in search of inspiration for a Malaysian themed garden for the world famous Chelsea Flower Show. In 2009, James and his design partner David Cubero won a silver medal. In 2010, they are going all out for gold.

The theme for their Chelsea garden is the Malaysian concept of 'kampung' a word which means 'village or community' but also 'traditional and natural'. James, whose Father is Malaysian, travels across the country meeting people who live a traditional kampung life in the midst of city skyscrapers and spending time with an indigenous community who show him how they use plants for medicine and ceremony.

James also travels to Bako National Park in Sarawak to look for an elusive and protected pitcher plant that he thinks could be the star of his Chelsea garden. In the Cameron Highlands, he tries to understand a strange Malaysian obsession with the English country garden.

Back in the UK, he faces the final and most daunting stage of the project - the build. He and his design partner, David, have just 20 days to pull together a garden that is not only good enough to get a Chelsea medal but will also do justice to the spirit of 'kampung' in a 21st century style.

Last on

Sat 25 Sep 2010 21:15 BBC Two Wales only

  • Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur

    Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur

    Situated in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Kampung Baru is the oldest Malay residential area in the capital and is one of the most valuable expanses of land in Kuala Lumpur. The residences have resisted all temptation from developers and modern-city living, even though the settlement is worth over 1.6 billion dollars.

    The essence of kampong living is represented by the authentic traditional Malay houses and the native planting which provides a natural haven from the bustling city on the outside. Plants such as lemon grass, ginger, bananas and mango trees are just some of the plants grown and nurtured by the locals for their nutritional and medicinal values.
    Kampung Baru has become more than a Malay village, but has turned into a political symbol of Malaysian culture

  • Bidayuh Kampung, Sarawak

    Bidayuh Kampung, Sarawak

    Bidayuh is the name for an ethnic gathering of several indigenous groups
    found in Sarawak, Borneo. They traditionally live in Longhouses, although these are slowly being replaced by individual houses. The community share the responsibility of the longhouses and they are normally laid out with communal areas down one side and private living areas on the other.
    A Longhouse is normally raised off the ground on stilts. This has various advantages: the cool air helps ventilate the longhouse, it helps reduce the likelihood of flooding and livestock can use the space beneath as an area to shelter from predators.

    The Mountainous areas around the settlement are traditionally used for growing staple foods, farming livestock and hunting. The forests provide an abundance of food to be foraged for medicinal and culinary purposes and are key to the success of the Bidayuh life style.

    Plants featured at Bidayuh Kampung:
    Areca catechu (Betel nut palm)
    The fruits of the Betel nut palm are used as a stimulant (Similar to the effects of coffee) and will increase stamina and awareness. Chewing the nut can also aid digestion and can also be used to stimulate the appetite.

    Wikipedia – More information on Bidayuh
  • Bako National Park, Sarawak

    Bako National Park, Sarawak

    Bako National park is Sarawak’s oldest National Park. It is possible to see almost every type of vegetation found in Borneo at Bako, even though it is one of the smallest of National Parks in Sarawak. Some of the different vegetation types include: Mangrove forest, beach vegetation, heath forest, cliff and grassland vegetation. Due to the variety of natural ecosystems, Bako provides a habitat to a whole range of Flora.

    Some of the plants offer a very showy display such as Tacca leontopetaloides
    (Bat flower). The weird looking greenish-purple flowers are borne on tall stalks, with long trailing bracts. Foliage plants such as Alocasia princeps (Elephant’s ear plant) survive under the shaded canopy of trees. The perfect leaf structure appears too delicate for the jungle, but they thrive.

    Unusual plant life have adapted to the harsh conditions on the plateau at Bako. The rocky, baron ground offer poor growing conditions. The lack of good quality soil and minerals has meant plants have had to adapt.
    Amongst the stunted trees, Ant plants have adapted to the conditions by providing homes for ants. The hollow tuber contains numerous ant chambers providing a safe haven. In return the ants provide valuable nutrients by leaving detritus behind. The ants also provide excellent protection against herbivores, as they will fend off competitors or even pests

    Other plants have also adapted. There are many species of carnivorous pitcher plants that have adapted in various ways by trapping insects. The victims are attracted to the nectar around the rim. Inside the pitcher the surfaces becomes very slippery, with no grip for the insects to hold on. Downward facing hairs prevent the insects from climbing out. Insects that have fallen for this trap end up in a digestive enzyme which breaks down the soft tissues of the insects. The pitcher plant can then extract nitrogen from the insect that is lacking in the harsh soil condition.

    Plants featured at Bako National Park:
    • Tacca leontopetaloides
    Bat flower
    • Alocasia princeps
    Elephant’s ear plant
    • Hydnophytum formicarum
    Ant plant
    • Dischidia rafflesiana
    Ant plant
    • Nepenthes rafflesiana
    Raffles' Pitcher plant
    • Nepenthes gracilis
    Tropical pitcher plant
    • Nepenthes ampullaria
    Tropical pitcher plant

    Information on Sarawak Forestry
  • Cameron Highlands, Peninsular Malaysia

    Cameron Highlands, Peninsular Malaysia

    The Cameron Highlands is one of the wonders of Malaysia and the colonial English influence has left its mark with evidence of Tudor style building and planting everywhere. The Cameron Highlands grew during the colonial era when the British realized the potential of these exceptionally fertile conditions and planted tea plantations across these vast mountainous slopes which still dominate the Highlands today.

    The Cameron Highlands has one of the best growing climates in Malaysia. The fertile conditions, high rain fall, along with the ideal temperature provide a perfect climate for a broad range of plants. An abundance of fruit and vegetable farms are scattered across the hillsides, growing anything from strawberries to cabbages. The Cameron Highlands dominate the market in Malaysia for producing flowers. Roses, Busy Lizzies grow next to more exotic species of Orchids and other tropical species. Plants that you wouldn’t expect to be growing with one another.

  • The Malaysian Show Garden at Chelsea

    The Malaysian Show Garden at Chelsea

    The result of the inspirational journey and months of planning, James Wong and David Cubero accomplish an outstanding Malaysian garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which was awarded a gold medal.
    The garden captured the spirit of Kampung and brought a taste of Malaysia to Chelsea. The lush green naturalistic planting set against the modern, chic layout created a cohesive garden with seemingly effortless design.

    The limestone slabs extended throughout the garden and floated above the water, drawing the eye towards the open sitting area.
    The canopy of Cyathea medullaris (Black tree fern) delicately hung above the garden providing shade for the plants below. The diverse tropical ground cover echoed throughout the garden, with unusual flowers of Tacca integrifolia (Bat flower) emerging throughout the planting at various intervals adding elegances amongst the planting.

    The Living wall added a perfect backdrop and the selected species of Soleirolia soleirolii (Mind your own business), Ficus pumila (Creeping fig) and Scindapsus pictus (Silver vine), worked in harmony with one another.

    Plants featured:
    • Nepenthes x hookeriana
    Pitcher plant
    • Cyathea medullaris
    Black tree fern
    • Ficus microcarpa var. nitida
    Malay banyan
    • Soleirolia soleirolii
    Mind your own business
    • Ficus pumila
    Creeping fig
    • Scindapsus pictus
    Silver vine
    • Tacca integrifolia
    Bat flower
    • Nepenthes ‘Rebecca Soper'
    Pitcher plant

    RHS - More information and a virtual tour of the garden


Production Manager
Sarah Greene
James Wong
Kevin Jarvis
Executive Producer
Gill Tierney
Assistant Producer
Matthew Stewart


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