Urban gardening as home income generator
Published on: Sunday, April 04, 2021
By: Eskay Ong
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MUCH has been spoken and written about gardening everywhere, but to most people, there is little or no difference between urban or rural gardening, mobile or stationary gardens, vertical or flat gardens, floating or aquatic gardens, and so on.  

What is commonly understood and practised among city folks is that gardening is simply about handling and growing plants using various cultivation media and under differing conditions, with the resultant rewards that are appreciable and satisfying in terms of some pleasing sights, relaxing fragrances and aromas, and abundant harvests of mouth-watering fruits and vegetables.  

And nowadays, it is becoming increasingly common for brilliant plant lovers and gardening enthusiasts with the foresight to focus not only on those matters but also on the financial returns that can be reaped from gardening activities that are basically hobbies or keep-fit deeds in an otherwise boring and stressful environment, especially with the Covid-19 pandemic still hanging around.

In the year 2020, the Malaysian Department of Statistics revised upwards the Poverty Line Income, meaning to say that a higher percentage of the population nationally as well as within Sabah, is now recognised as grovelling in absolute poverty, with household incomes being insufficient to meet basic needs of food, shelter and clothing.  It is not difficult to imagine the grind and toil they have to go through, worrying about food, clothing and shelter.

During the good old days when Sabah was the richest state in the country, such issues were non-existent, but now it has been relegated to the bottom-most rung, that is, the poorest state.  It is amazing how the turn of fortune can happen with the reduction, loss and destruction of state assets, but it is indeed at the bottom now, with the title of the Poorest State in Malaysia. 

Many people in the state are now struggling to make ends meet, with the maxim ‘kais pagi makan pagi, kais petang makan petang’ more commonly heard everywhere.  Many are also doing double or triple jobs, mostly legal, hopefully, just so that they can put the bare minimum of food on the table.

This is where urban gardening or urban agriculture may turn out to be the great saviour of the common man, especially those within the B40 group. And it seems that within the recent year or so, there appears to be a great mushrooming of people selling, growing or buying plants in and around KK city. Even numerous shops dealing in hardware, provisions, foodstuffs, etc, are all having their fingers in it. That means there must be something very meaty or rewarding when it comes to plants in KK.  

It is believed folks in other big towns in Sabah are also into plants for the sake of eking out a few extra bucks for the day to tide over the current difficult time.  Surprisingly, most of the time, the plants one sees being traded carry quite hefty prices, which means it is possible to rake in very handsome profits.  Little wonder that some of these hardworking people have now dumped their old clunkers such as bicycles, Bedfords or Vauxhalls and are instead driving new Hilux or Isuzu 4WDs. The saying that hard work pays is absolutely correct.

Plants are good money-makers

That so many people have jumped into growing and selling plants is just plain sense of business and need.  One may call it urban gardening, city farming,  urban agriculture or urban cultivation, but the bottom line remains the same, that is, it is about being able to cultivate and harvest some returns such as vegetables, flowers, fruits, ornamentals, aesthetics, or to extract some pecuniary benefits.  

As a matter of fact, there was a commercial brand name of tomato known as Moneymaker which I grew many years ago, and which, sadly, was not taken advantage of from the business angle.  The yield was simply fantastic and so abundant, so much so that neighbours and many friends were given loads and loads of the large, juicy and plump fruits as neighbourly or friendly gifts free of charge.

Within urban areas, gardening has been carried out since generations ago. It is still being done today, perhaps with even more enthusiasm and fervour.  Add in the latest tools and equipment, plus the incessant online information, the result is a volatile mix of unending possibilities where results are determined by creativity, hard work and zeal.

And the results are by no means insignificant as can be seen at various outlets selling plants, as well as through the internet.  Where previously common plants such as Caladiums and Coleus would not raise half an eyelid as they were considered very normal and common stuffs, such plants are now fetching incredibly high prices.  

For example, a brightly coloured Caladium which used to sell for about RM10-RM20, is now changing hands for several hundred ringgit. There was even a two metre tall Alocacia dug out from the jungle that was apparently sold for RM3,000!  

The total cost inclusive of effort, transport and handling, and a short period of care and acclimatising, would not amount to more than RM300, which means the profit margin is truly eye-popping! 

Other plants such as those exquisitely moulded and trained Pachiras with large, knarled caudices (caudexes) and curvy stems, would naturally fetch equally big sums, if not more, as they require a long time to form.  Moreover, they are of the permanent or ‘never die’ type, which is in the same category as the large Wrightia or ‘Shui Mei’ bonsais.  Such plants can be considered as heritage plants as they are usually passed down from generation to generation, which is partly why they are so expensive.

So, jom go for it folks!

Creative planting helps to enrich the B40 

Being able to raise the income of the family and fulfil its needs is the hope of every parent, but in the face of crunch times, what do they do?  

As it is accepted that extraordinary times call for extra ordinary actions, it is therefore not surprising to see that many have taken down their neckties or long skirts and lacy stockings and don tough working attires.  A further good sign is that they are no more quivering in the presence of earthworms, caterpillars or slugs that have always remained part and parcel of the garden.  

There are even many news reports that numerous managers, directors and senior staff members of conglomerates and agencies, have now truly gone down to the ground to get dirtied digging and feeling the garden soil.  

Being brilliant people, they must have realised, finally, that gardens can yield appreciable incomes too if creatively and diligently worked on, and that gardening is not only a healthy exercise but a profitable one too.

It is thus most encouraging for households within the B40 group to have another avenue to generate some extra cash to enrich the family.  

There is no special need or skills required, but if there are short term courses conducted by government agencies to boost their skills and know-how, that would certainly be most helpful.  

Ultimately, it is their commitment that counts to see goals achieved.  Spoon-feeding or scattering dedak do not help as it will cause communities to be forever spineless and totally dependent on the tongkat, but showing them how to use the pruning shear, spade, trowel or budding knife, would result in more productive outcomes.

There are numerous high-tech ways to grow and produce something for sale, but it does not make sense to install an expensive vertical or tiered cultivation project in the backyard with a maze of electronics and electricals, computers, auto-sensors etc. The high cost would certainly knock out everyone even before the first kangkung leaf is put in the kuali.

One fast-track and low-cost way is to grow edible plants that have a short maturity period.  For instance, sawi or bayam may require only a short 20-30 days to see the leafy plants converted into cash, but as these are usually priced cheaper, they can more than make up for that by their rapid growth and maturity which means the input-to-output cycle is much shorter.  By itself, this is an incentive to generate cash quickly from small backyard plots or even with pots or bags.

The recent trend in home gardening is seen in the hundreds of Caladiums or yam plants being bought or sold everywhere.  An attractive mother plant may cost a couple of hundred ringgit but within three months, it is certain to yield several plantlets which may then be separated and grown as individual plants.  As they grow bigger, they may then be pushed out for sale, with the result that within 6-9 months, all the capital invested would have been recouped plus lots of extra as profit.

Home gardeners who are hoping for some quick bucks should be fast and serious about the business, as the market could be saturated within a year or two.  As a matter of caution, it would be advisable to grow a wider range of popular varieties so that in case item A becomes less saleable, hopefully items B, C or D could make up for the slack.

Another method that suits home gardeners really well is the stocking of old garden items such as boulders, tree stumps, old logs, etc.  These can usually be sold for a lot of money if they are treated and cleaned up, redesigned, refined, reshaped or repurposed.  

There is a niche market for such items especially in the city where the people who are interested to buy them usually have deep pockets. 

Other means to generate more income from the home garden is through the use of the internet.  In fact, a lot of varieties can be seen nowadays in the cyber media but of course sending plants across interstate or international boundaries would require the fulfilment of plant quarantine and other regulations.

So, folks, what are you waiting for? Jom, ini kalilah!


Vegetables are very fast- growing which should be able to help those working at home such as home gardeners to rake in the badly needed cash more quickly.


Chlorophytum ornamental grown in internode cut-outs  of a piece of bamboo.


Large Wrightia bonsai and Pachira stump need some finer skills to mould them into high-value ornamentals in the garden.


A large spotless leaf of the yam plant certainly is worth more money than one that is tattered or in shreds.


Bayam is simple and fast to bring in the cash.


A properly-manicured Jatropha that is balanced in its set-up looks very much more appealing and is worth more money than the one that is left untended.  



Ornamentals are very fast- growing which should be able to help those working at home such as home gardeners to rake in the badly needed cash more quickly.

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