Growing stuff on hot concrete – gardening in tropical Penang – episode 1

It’s the tropics – everything grows like weeds, right?  Couldn’t be easier growing things?!  Er, no.

The easy way is to see what your neighbours are growing in pots, and just grow the same.  But with the exception of bougainvillea and a couple more, I had more interesting plants in mind. And I want mostly things I can eat. Oh, and everything should be organic. I want to be able to grow food – and I know it would be much cheaper and easier just to buy it at an organic shop. Following is my experience from May 2011.

I have no ground as everywhere is paved, so apart from a 30 square foot raised brick bed I had made on a concrete slab, everything else I have to grow in pots.  And I move the pots around if I think the plants will be happier with more / less shade, cover, etc. I painted the concrete floor, walls and planter box with a special white paint that reflects the heat – it is manufactured in Ipoh and they deliver.  This means I can walk on the floor and not burn my feet, the plants are cooler, and the house is cooler.

30 square foot planter box, shade cloth and lattice

I’d buy local seeds, sow them, and absolutely nothing would germinate.  Even in my raised bed, nothing would germinate.  I would compost the fruit and vegetable remains, and then put the compost in my raised bed.  And from this little seedlings appeared.  I would nurture them, and they’d grow to about 1″ or 2″ tall, and then they’d wilt and die.

LESSON 1. It’s too hot.  I put up a pergola with lattice, and put shade cloth over the top of the garden bed.  Pots could also be shaded.  I put another layer of shade cloth directly over the raised bed for the hottest part of the day.  And then I watered frequently to keep it all cooler.  Doing the same kind of thing with seeds in seed pots brought some success – carrots, cabbages,  cherry tomatoes…  Shade cloth, watering to keep cool.

So now I had some plants growing up from my compost.  I often did not know what they were, and neither did the nursery man.

LESSON 2.  People tell you there are no seasons and you can sow seeds / plant plants anytime. I don’t believe it.  Passionfruit I grew from seed became about 9″ high and then stopped growing for months – then suddenly around October they took off and grew rapidly all over the lattice.  Now, mid-February, I have had one flower, and a fruit is now growing.  I have 20 plants, so I hope many more will follow. Similar experience with other plants – the time of year makes a difference.


  1. Like your concrete garden 🙂 Didn’t know its that easy to grow bitter gourd. I have had my fair share of failures with some of the seeds I bought. I’m in Penang too. Just started my blog on gardening.

  2. Hi Ben. Other bitter gourd seeds have come up, but never had the vigour of the first ones. I couldn’t get much information on gardening in Penang, so I thought I’d write what I found myself. So I’ll have a look at your experiences.

  3. hi,

    Did you built the pergola yourself? and are they from wood or Wood Plastic Composite?
    I would like to build one for my balcony. my place is in Jawi there.

    1. Hi Damon. Unfortunately I didn’t successfully grow carrots. I germinated seeds, but they didn’t grow properly. Many things don’t easily grow here, but I keep on trying.

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