SOMEWHERE between Sarikei and Sibu is a garden belonging to a Wong family.
The eldest son Wong Siong Jing or just Ah Jing is retired and disabled (due to tendon injuries) but rather than whiling away the hours aimlessly, he decided to work the family land instead of leaving it idle despite being ‘no longer able to work normally’ due to his condition.
His determination in the face of adversity is admirable. Through sheer hardwork, notwithstanding his handicap, he has over the past five years created an awe-inspiring garden – call it a Garden of Faith, if you like.
Limping towards the front of his garden and after opening the gates, Ah Jing welcomed us like long-lost friends, gestured to us take a seat and went into the kitchen. Before we knew it, he brought out seven glasses of golden pumpkin smoothies for us.
The drink was refreshing and energising on a hot and dry day in Sarikei.
“I’m dedicating this garden to God, praising Him with what I can produce,” said Wong who grows fruit trees, vegetables and exotic plants.
In the last few years, he had been giving orchids for Sunday Worship in Sarikei and fruits and vegetables to anyone who visited him – plus fruits to friends and the needy.
“It’s a pity my durian trees had to be chopped down in the last few years due to disease and bad clayey soil. It’s too expensive to grow new ones now,” he sighed.
Wong’s garden is now a horticulturist’s delight. He arranges the platforms neatly and designs every greenhouse.
Pots, jars and bowls
The succulents and varieties of cacti are grown in bowls and pots he bought over the years.
As imported ceramic bowls and jars are very expensive, Wong has devised a way to repair the broken ones with his special cement mix and artistic skills.
After tending to his plants almost the whole morning, he would be at his patio in the afternoon, repairing broken pots, jars and bowls with a great deal of passion.
“We mustn’t throw away good resources. This is the way I can recycle God’s gifts. I don’t throw away any of these shards.
“Like the Japanese, I repair my bowls and pots carefully.”
His most impressive plants are the succulents. He places most of the orders online and arranges them in special greenhouses for visitors to view.
Wong and his eight siblings had a very hard life. Their mother passed away when the youngest brother was only one year old.
Wong himself had to stop studying after six years of primary school to help his father support the growing family. It was tough but his father never gave up.
Wong worked in a timber yard when barely a teenager. He would rush back to cook for the family and make sure his siblings went to school. The family made do with two small incomes.
After many years of hard work and saving up, the family managed to buy a “very cheap” piece of land to build their first home, quite far away from Sarikei.
According to Wong, he and his friends had scouted around Sarikei and Bintangor and found a plot going for a reasonable price. After obtaining it, he built the family house and started growing some fruit trees.
He learned while he worked – about running a timber yard, collecting timber and reselling planks and wood materials to the builders. He also learned to grow vegetables from his father and his neighbours. They had to economise by growing their own food.
A friend commented: “It must have been very hard for Mr Wong to help his father care for the family at a young age of 12 after his mother passed away.
“When he should be studying in a secondary school, he was already out in the sun working in the timber yard and planting vegetables during the evening.”
To this, Wong replied: “Life is like that. We all had to work hard just to have something on the table. I had to help feed my siblings.”
Today, the family property amounts to 11 acres, shared by the eight siblings.
Wong said it’s very important for his family to hold on to three important values – honesty, sincerity, and frugality – adding that by God’s grace, they have survived to this day.
Wong worked until he was not physically able to support his siblings and his own family. He had been working so hard that he did not notice he had damaged the tendons of his right foot.
While expanding his fruit garden, he went on working at the timberyard. On retiring, he started his orchid, fruit and vegetable garden with modern concepts, building sheds for his plants and pipes for watering.
He also fitted lights for the greenhouses. For a while, he planted durian trees but it was a bad investment – the trees died due to poor soil. But he didn’t give up. There were still other fruit trees and vegetables to cultivate.
Wong and his brothers continued to build up the garden. It was only about two years ago that he started to concentrate on orchids, exotic succulents and plants.
“I’m not going commercial as these are my favourite plants. I just love growing and looking at them.”
Flowers for church
Wong plants many species of orchids. He also tried looking for wild jungle orchids. Today, more than 40 different types of orchids are flowering in his garden.
His mostly organically-grown orchids are given to the Methodist Church in Sarikei. When friends ask for flower donations, he readily obliges.
Wong also grows rambutans and pomelos, a few green oranges and local lemons. As he is short-handed, he can’t do more at the moment. The succulents are taking up a lot of his time.
He now grows many types of vegetables in his backyard, using traditional farming methods, although he is keen on organic fertilisers made from fruit and food waste.
Visitors are impressed by the superb looking pumpkins and cucumbers in his garden. Leafy vegetables also grow fantastically well in special beds.
An avid reader and receptive of new ideas, Wong uses courier service to order a lot of stuff online. He is now trying to order special rocks and stones for planting succulents.
His succulents are grown in beautiful dishes or shallow bowls and the rocks and stones are used to ‘dress up’ the display items.
For top dressings, decorative rocks are placed on top of the soil after arranging the succulents. The dressings also keep the soil in place during and after watering.
Wong orders new succulents all over the world. He is proud of his collection of cacti and succulents and enjoys reading related materials online.
To make the plants grow well, he has developed his own method of rearing composting worms to add natural fertilisers to the garden.
He bought a few batches of these worms from Indonesia and West Malaysia. He is presently very much into worm culture or vermiculture.
According to him, regular soil and garden earthworms cannot be used for worm composting. They will die if added to an indoor worm bin.
He has been reading up on the technique to recycle kitchen and livestock wastes into a rich organic fertiliser.
Asked by his friend, Steve Ling, he said the worms were an invaluable ally in building up the soil in his garden.
He is reading more about the subject and will be comparing prices in Southeast Asian countries. Definitely, these worms will help him produce good vegetables on healthy soil.
Wong told thesundaypost: “I’ll research more about vermiculture. We’ve nothing to lose.”
His garden is open to friends and well-wishers and he wants it called ‘Good Tidings’.
As we prepared to leave, Wong, while bidding us goodbye, said: “I’ll put up my signage soon and visitors can drop by. I hope they’ll be filled with hopes and gladness.”
We left with thankful hearts for God’s wonderful creations and prayers for Wong’s good health.