Are hidden natural gardens a draw?
Joseph Wong 

HIDDEN natural gardens within shopping malls and residential properties, especially in high-rise developments, can be eye-opening with the green environment consciousness taking a strong hold of Malaysians.

These gems of greenery not only enhance the appearance of the development but also provide individuals with a tiny spot of “get-away” from the hustle and bustle of city life.

For example, 1Utama Shopping Centre in Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya has several natural gardens but Secret Garden on the rooftop, occupying 30,000 sq ft, is the biggest, followed by the rainforest and other isolated plots of greenery within the mall.

Similarly, Starling Mall in Damansara Uptown, Petaling Jaya also has natural gardens within its shopping grounds.

Of late, more property developers are also adding natural gardens into high-rise residential projects.

These are mostly for the residents but several have them in common areas that visitors can also enjoy.


Just a gimmick?

While these hidden gems are fascinating, do they really draw in shoppers to malls? And do they entice buyers and investors to purchase such residential developments?

The general consensus is that such natural gardens work better for residential developments than for malls.

Hidden natural gardens are not a drawing factor for shoppers, says Faizul

Faizul Ridzuan, CEO of property consultancy Far Capital Sdn Bhd, believes that for malls, such hidden natural gardens are interesting additions for experiential shopping but they are not a draw factor for shoppers.

“People go to malls to shop. They don’t go to malls to see the greenery,” he tells FocusM.

“In reality, who goes to the mall to hang out in the park? If they want to go to the park, they go to a park. Not the mall.

“A good example is the park next to the mall. The mall is full of people and the park is still empty,” he says.

Property investor, speaker and author Ahyat Ishak agrees. These gardens are not a factor of choice which mall visitors shop in, he says.

The Level 1 hidden garden serves also as a connection for employees in Damansara Uptown’s office towers to Starling Mall

Using his own family as a yardstick, he says proximity to the mall is one factor while others include what they were shopping for as well as the eateries that are available.

“Gardens in malls are not even on our radar,” he says.

Faizul, however, acknowledges that while shoppers are already in the mall, natural gardens may be of some interest but it depends on the shoppers.

However, real estate marketing and investment agency IQI Global’s elite marketing team senior real estate negotiator YC Chan looks at such greenery positively. “For a mall, private gardens help to boost the classiness of the entire environment.”


Different for residential properties

But when it comes to high-rise residential properties, all three agree that landscaped gardens are a different proposition.

Ahyat points out that in such cases, gardens are important. “[Moreover], exclusivity is important and justifies the price of such residential properties. It adds value to these developments,” he says.

“Having a private garden in your own residential abode is definitely one of key factors,” says Chan.

“We live in KL city, a place of high walls and glass, a place lacking the touch of nature. When we head back home, greenery scenes and places help to release stress.

“A private garden may also be useful for spending quality time with family members such as planting [vegetables] together,” he says of some developers who have added facilities like herb and vegetable gardens in their individual projects.

For residential properties, there is a definite gain in having gardens, says Faizul. “Properties with a park [and garden] have a higher sub-sale value. They also command a higher rental value.”

The same cannot be said for malls, he adds.

A garden too secret

LOCATED on the rooftop of 1Utama Shopping Centre’s new wing, the eight-year-old Secret Garden is still very much a secret to many.

The 30,000 sq ft hidden gem, claimed to be the largest rooftop garden in Southeast Asia and featuring about 500 species of plants, is opened to the public only on weekends.

Managed by consultant botanist Francis Ng and the Petaling Jaya mall’s landscape department, the garden, which took five years to complete, was opened in 2009, according to the management of 1Utama.

Free guided tours around the garden are available every first weekend of the month but it is limited to 20 people each session and pre-registration is required, says the manager-in-charge.

During the construction of the Secret Garden, cranes were used to lift the larger trees to the rooftop garden while the smaller plants were transported to the garden via the mall’s lift, she says.

The garden survives on a layer of soil while aquatic plants like the giant water lilies float on a man-made pond, she adds.

In contrast, the Starling Mall’s ground level Chirp Park is spread across 27,500 sq ft of green lawn, trees and a meandering brook.

It also has a garden on Level 1 linking the various office towers within Damansara Uptown, Petaling Jaya, in addition to the rooftop Sky Park. While all three are accessible to the public, the garden link is the most “hidden” and fewer shoppers are aware of its existence.

In an earlier interview with See Hoy Chan Sdn Bhd CEO Joe Tan, he points out that Starling Mall, as a nature-themed mall, incorporate design features to provide visitors with a complete “mall in a park” experience.

The entrance pathway design mimics leaves blown into the interior, while natural elements are expressed through interior design touches and signages, he says.

Vertical green walls are placed within the mall to improve indoor air quality while a large skylight provides ample natural light, he adds.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 267.