Golden Gardenias


I was late for the garden tour at Rimbun Dahan which started at 9 am, in fact I pretty much missed all but the last 30 minutes or so. I joined it just as they were about to enter the Rumah Uda Manap which had gorgeous botanical decorative art - worthy of another post later. As I took off my shoes to enter the house I was struck by what was in the water pot at the foot of the stairs - flowers floating in the dark water, exquisite sculpted forms, in a saffron yellow color that was stunning.

To be honest, I didn't notice the garlands of the same flower strung up around the doorways until I got home and looked at the pictures later, but that's because there was so much to look at in the house and I was tuned into the narrative of our host Angela Hijjaas as she talked about the design elements and the details of its' thoughtful reconstruction. I loved that the house was also very much 'alive' being home to one of the current resident artists Jessica Watson. Kitchen towels were hung to dry and a pile of children's toys bore testimony to that as we also peered into one of the rooms which she used as a studio. See a video poem by a previous resident artist Mike Ladd.

There is still a little more of the garden tour left as Angela announces that we are going to go see the gardenias next. Ah, it's those saffron colored flowers. We stroll under a row of trees, Gardenia Carinata,  laced underfoot with flowers and take in the perfume from the flowers overhead. I pick up a bloom to sniff. Angela picks up and hands me a smaller, much paler bloom to explain that the flowers start almost white and then as they age, they darken and also lose their scent, barely having any by the time they fall to the ground. I bring both home and the younger bloom is still fragrant a day later. Almost a week later the older bloom, though dried and withered still holds on to some of that magnificent color.

The garden tour ends and we go into the gallery where there is an exhibition of the work by the resident artists created during their year at Rimbun Dahan. There's a large painting (combined with embroidery) by Jessica of the gardenias titled "Love in Bloom", a fitting bookend to my aquaintance with the Golden Gardenia. She captures that marvelous color and adds an interesting textural element with the embroidery on the leaves.

What began as a curiousity about what Angela and her architect husband Hijjas Kasturi are doing, through their their website (found incidentally on a random google search for indigenous malaysian plants) had become after this visit, a realization of the blend of philanthropy they extend to the artist community, their dedication to environmentalism and indigenous culture.  Can't wait for another opportunity to see more of their commendable efforts to combine art, environment and local culture in a meaningful and contemporary context which now extends beyond Rimbun Dahan with their new venture Hotel Penanga in Penang.
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