Welcome! My name is Shirene, and my garden and I grow in the tropical city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I am mad about growing herbs and veggies in a way that delights all the senses. I love playing with bright colours and bold flavours, merry pots and curvy beds, artful design and sound science, to create a beautiful, flavourful garden.
The pragmatic grower may say that paying so much attention to the aesthetics is a waste of time. Isn’t it more efficient to focus on growing as much food as possible, and all in straight beds and regular pots? It is, but I have never wanted to create a farm, although I love supporting all the hardworking urban farmers who are transforming and localising our food system.
What I have wanted was to make a garden that lets me be Alice in Wonderland, or the Pevensie children in Narnia, or Harry Potter in Diagon Alley. If this sounds mad, my favourite song from the soundtrack of Lalaland says it better than I can.
A bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that’s why they need us
So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays
And here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make
[From the song Audition (The Fools Who Dream)]
Garden-making is my “bit of madness”. It lets me dream and create an alternate world, a muse, a solace, and a refuge, none more so than during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is how I satisfy that innate desire that whispers in each of us to create something that expresses and helps us discover who we are.
I have been mad for 8 years and counting. Along the way, I have learned some fascinating and surprising lessons about growing food, myself and my family:
- The visible is a symptom of the invisible. When the shoots look dismal, the problem usually lies with the roots. Hence, in the garden as in other realms of life, when we encounter persistent problems, it always helps to ask: what is the root of the problem?
- Beauty and flavour are not accidental and frivolous. In fact, they are hallmarks of a healthy garden. When we understand that nutrition determines colour, flavour and pest-resistance, we can be intentional about growing a beautiful, flavourful garden by nourishing our plants with good nutrition. For example, phosphorous deepens the colours of fruits and flowers, potassium enhances flavour, and calcium builds cell strength and disease resistance. There are at least 18 minerals that power critical functions in plants, and these are the same minerals that our human bodies need to thrive, which we get from the food we eat if they are in the food in the first place.
- “When you pursue food production and beauty together, you form meaningful spaces that have the power to both ground and uplift.” This quote is from a book on edible landscaping that has inspired me in this way of gardening. As we try to grow creatively, I have been amazed to discover my husband’s natural talent for building beautiful raised beds on the spot, without measuring or drawing. You will see some of his imaginative designs on this website, and he offers his talent for your garden too.
- An urban food garden can host an astonishing array of wildlife. During lockdown, my restless pre-teen son has discovered and photographed more than 200 species of butterflies and moths, a range to rival his Pokemon tribe. We also have more than 20 species of bird and numerous wild bee hives over the years. We are grateful and delighted with such liveliness in our garden, especially during the lockdowns.
- As I grow the garden, the garden grows me. I have lost the idealism of a beginner, but I have gained wisdom from the years of growing many kinds of food – succeeding, failing, observing, recording, puzzling, solving, always persevering, never giving up. Much as I would love to get my garden totally under my control, I can’t completely keep the weather, weeds, pests, diseases and cat poo out. But hey, even in Wonderland, Narnia, Diagon Alley, and all good stories – confusion, frustration and failure intermingle with creativity, satisfaction and success. Given the lack of complete control we have, gardening is the perfect antidote for perfectionism! We can practise acceptance and anti-perfectionism in any long-term committed relationship with spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, or pets, but I think gardening is a safer way to practise because plants don’t yell at us, bite us, or murder us even when we do the same to them everyday. And that to me is the best reason to garden.
Over the years, we have had the privilege to run food gardening workshops and nature education programmes in our garden and beyond. I also do personal coaching with individual gardeners. We have learnt the most from teaching and sharing our work, and we are seeking to collaborate with learning organisations to co-create gardening and nature education programmes for your learners. We will resume face-to-face programmes when it is safe to do. In the meantime, if you would like my personal coaching support to problem-solve your garden, please contact me.
Garden-making and sharing about it is my way of finding my place in this world – one pot, one patch, one garden, one gardener at a time. Thank you for letting me share my garden and my gardening with you here. I hope you will wander around and stay a while.