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Febuary 2011
Building Gardens For Society


GARDENS appeal to our senses. We experience them through how beautiful they appear, or the fragrant scents they produce, or how cool or relaxing they feel.

This stimulation of our senses is the power a garden holds over us and its central role in civilisation since the earliest recorded history. Gardens have always been prized for the contrast they offer to the artificiality of towns and cities — as a way to remind man of his place in nature. A lot of garden designers have recognised the mood-affecting power of gardens, and have sought ways to use them on a mass scale — specifically in designing public parks that can influence the mood of society.

It’s not quite the science fiction it sounds. Beautiful parks within congested cities are common — acting as havens of serenity amidst the chaos — but they are not common enough.

Gardens have played central yet unsung roles throughout history — usually as the backdrop against which key events were decided. Even today, state-level negotiations or conferences are held at venues which have ready access to gardens — where the top-level diplomats or representatives may confer in private and make deals “off the table”.

Perhaps it’s time we elevate the status of gardens in our cities and place more emphasis on creating a garden nation, with periodic tree-planting campaigns.

Now and then, I come across complaints in the newspapers about how certain parks are ill-maintained or requests for more public gardens to be built.

There are too few public recreational areas and even then, they are mostly badly kept and prone to vandalism, whereas the nice ones are all privately-owned, within resorts or affluent neighbourhoods. A beautiful or harmonious environment can stimulate creativity and productivity, whereas dirty or ugly surroundings contribute to an equally negative mentality. This explains why hospitals and hotels alike all boast of well-designed internal gardens as part of their value offering.

Well, I have a dream of a time when public areas, from public parks to the local field in housing areas, will incorporate beautiful gardens that encourage people to spend time in.

In designing gardens for public areas, it is important that they must breathe life into people. Otherwise, it is just a pretty but dead space.

It’s no use injecting funds and doing up an area beautifully with little thought given to how practical or accessible it is to the layman. It is no good to create great landscapes but with signs to “keep off the grass”.

Public parks, especially in developed countries, are simply amazing. Well-maintained fountains, facilities and plants are the norm. Some even have life-sized statues or carvings as centrepieces. And all these in common neighbourhoods! Imagine a Malaysia where public parks in residential areas are designed with bubbling fountains as centrepieces, and there are fragrant tropical plants interspersed along a jogging track and playround. Surely this will encourage more people to spend time outdoors with family, friends and neighbours instead of staying indoors. Kids would play outdoors more instead of being glued to their computer games. The funny thing is, we had such a garden society once. It was the kampung of our parents’ and grandparents’ time. It’s time we reawaken this culture within our cities and towns.



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