Embracing the Garden Way of Sustainable Living - New Straits Times

The garden's enduring role as a source of food, medicine, sanctuary and inspiration was celebrated in Johor Green's annual garden party recently. Johor Green, a social enterprise with a concern for green issues, continues to inform, inspire, connect and encourage more people to take a social path to a greener Johor.

This year's event included a garden tour, an Art of Nature exhibition and guests enjoyed local and artisanal refreshments served in the garden.

This is the third in a series of garden parties held by Johor Green with the Art of Nature exhibition curated in collaboration with the Ohara Circle, a study group in school of ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement.

Each section of the exhibition was enhanced by a vase arranged in the Ohara school of ikebana to complement the beauty and harmony of art in nature.

While Johor Green founder Chris Parry did the art direction, the floral arrangements, using flowers from the garden and the neighbourhood, was done by Datin Ong Kid Ching, a third master in the Ohara school of Ikebana and instructor of the Ohara Circle.

Parry, a former New York-based graphic artist and textile designer, has a passion for botany and gardening.

A recent Johor Green initiative called Our Green Heritage is portrayed in his original artworks that feature familiar Malaysian flora like lalang, blue pea flowers and mangrove trees for sale as posters, notebooks and cards on recycled paper.

Last year during a visit to Japan for the Iskandar Malaysia eco-life educational project, Iskandar Malaysia representatives presented the mayor of Kyoto with a full set of these stunning pieces of artwork.

"Sitting in the garden, enjoying each others' company, sharing ideas while smelling the herbs and flowers, is exactly what low-carbon sustainable living is all about," said Parry.

The guests at the garden party came from a broad cross-section of people including players in the green community like proprietors of wild honey, organic compost farmers, eco-tour organisers and others who are already committed to sustainable ideas who can encourage those who are just discovering them.

Meeting informally in a casual setting, guests were encouraged to cultivate an interest in home activities like gardening, home cooking and entertaining -- lifestyles that are huge contributors to lowering the carbon footprint.

For a start, guests were taken on a tour of the garden to introduce them to sustainable gardening concepts like permaculture, xeriscaping (a type of landscaping) and native plants.

In the cottage garden, guests were shown edible plants like the Chinese violet (asystasia gangetica) which has a high nutritional profile and how easy it was to grow them in our gardens.

They were also introduced to a variety of herbs for cuisine and three types of basil including medicinal ones like cassia alata whose leaves have anti-fungal properties.

In the sun-baked concrete patio, guests saw how succulents, dracaenas, cacti and citrus trees can thrive in hot and dry conditions, and can go for long intervals without additional watering.

Ferns and epiphytes that thrive in the shade of lowland forests were showcased in the native garden.

Guests saw an incredible range of native foliage like the many variegated shades of coleus, the unusual striped butterfly-wing leaves of Christia obcordata and the black leaves of Cordyline fruticosa that provide visual interest without any flowers.

Guests were also treated to an Art of Nature exhibition that illustrated ideas about bringing the outside inside in a showcase that included textiles, apparel, home furnishings and decor that were either inspired by nature or made from natural and locally sourced materials.

Some interesting exhibits were local wood sculptures by Datuk Dr Lim Kee Jin, organic ceramic art by Datin Ong Kid Ching, ikebana arrangements by Ohara Circle and a large land art installation of a Johor Green Star.

Apart from highlighting the more subtle nature and colours of natural materials, the intent was also to show how relevant and beautiful sustainable art and design can be in the modern home.

For refreshments, guests enjoyed homemade food that were provided by RB Kitchens, a small local enterprise, and other delicacies like vegetarian Hakka dumplings, Indian vadai, Indonesian tempeh and salad, and home-baked artisanal bread to be savoured with homemade dips created with eggplant and fried onions.

Chilled local tea infused with lemon basil herb and kaffir lime leaves was a hit among guests. Reusable containers were used and after the party, the recyclable cups and plates went into the compost heap.

From the New Straits Times, by Peggy Loh