Cover Inch Lim (Photo: Imran Sulaiman)

Renowned Malaysian landscape architect and AMI honouree Inch Lim has travelled the world creating evocative and award-winning gardens. Tatler Homes speaks to him about his adventures and profound love for the natural world.

Landscape design as a profession is often conflated with being a glorified gardener although in truth, creating gardens which look effortlessly natural is an art. One person who has this down pat is Lim In Chong or more commonly known as Inch Lim. Originally from Batu Pahat, Lim is a multi-award-winning landscape architect with a flourishing practice called Inchscape in Kuala Lumpur. Lim has been behind many private and public botanical beauties in Malaysia and beyond, such as Penang’s Spice Garden and Hong Kong Disneyland.

He has also won a string of global awards in China and Singapore and took home a staggering four Gold medals at the prestigious Japan Gardening World Cup. Not to mention being invited to judge at the BBC Gardens of the Year Competition in the UK and the Ellerslie International Flower Show in New Zealand.

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This ample recognition belies the fact that Lim entered the landscaping business when he was 46 with no official qualifications, although he later received a Master's from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in design and architecture. Prior to starting his own landscape design practice, Lim travelled the world trying his hand at various occupations, none of which stuck.

Driven by a deep passion for design and nature, Lim, who is now in his 60s, continues to grow his practice while trying to bring about change through the use of green technology.

Chong opens up to Tatler Homes about the adventures life had given him and what he still wants to achieve.

Why did you start your own landscape design company?

There are obviously some people to whom design looms large in their very existence. They see, eat, hear, smell and breathe design. While not exactly as extreme, I would consider myself quite close to that end of the spectrum. I have tried different jobs from being a labourer to teaching to running businesses and have been moderately successful in some of them, but that journey has taught me that the deep and intense interest in design had always overshadowed everything I did.

It took a while but thank goodness I finally decided that no other career path would give me the same type of joy and satisfaction. It was the most productive period of my life.

Coming in later in life to landscape design—was it an advantage or disadvantage?

In my opinion, architects and designers should live many lives before embarking on a career in design. The life experiences brought to bear on design are irreplaceable. For me, coming to design later in life is a huge advantage as that gave me the time and space to develop my design capabilities without being caught up in the necessity of using it as a tool for meeting financial needs.

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Do you have a favourite project and why?

Designing a garden is a bit like giving birth although not quite so painful. There is the gestation period, then carrying and developing the idea, and then the final push for the idea to be realised. So it is a bit hard to tell you my favourite.

However, if I was forced to choose one, I would have to say the first show garden I made in Japan called Washinboutei. It had the drama of the tall bamboo, the beauty of the plant material, the appeal of Japanese materials, the magic of walking over water, and the strong narrative of resurrection from disaster and recovery.

What are the necessary components for good landscape design?

I would say psychology coupled with in-depth knowledge of all the different hard and soft elements and the ability to design. Psychology because you are creating the landscape for humans so you have to understand their needs and what makes them comfortable, what excites them. That encompasses a lot and design is actually quite complex.

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Is there an additional factor that ensures a project becomes award-winning?

The design must have all the elements of good design. More than that, it has to be inventive, thoroughly thought through and well-executed.

Tell us about your design process.

I start with contextualisation. What are the site conditions? Where is it situated? How big is it? What is the terrain? What is the climatic condition? Then I look at the demands we are to make on it. What are the uses? Included in the contextualisation will be things like the architecture, proposed or existing. Once I have all that down, the dreaming begins.

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Has the pandemic changed the way you work?

It has certainly changed my perspective on life. Since many meetings are conducted online, we are finding that we don’t have to get stuck in so many traffic jams. The fact that we couldn't travel had hampered some of my overseas work; the contractors had to work without my presence.

Unfortunately, this might have had some impact on the quality of the work, although generally, it worked out fairly well. Looking into the future, it may make collaborations with other international consultants and clients a lot more effective.

What are your thoughts about the landscape design field in Malaysia?

I recently had an intern who wanted to go on to do her Master's degree. I encouraged her to go to the UK to learn about gardening. In Japan, they have schools that teach gardening without using books, just videos and practising with companies and gardening masters.

I believe that perhaps we may not be looking creatively enough in the training of our professionals. In many countries, there is little regulation in the profession. I think there is still quite a lot of room for improvement but we have to be careful not to over-regulate as that may end up stifling creativity.

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Tell us about your work with green technology.

I am currently working with a company on green energy, specifically free-standing solar hydrogen energy partially for rural off-grid communities. I believe this is the energy for the future. I particularly like the fact that it does not rely on batteries.

What are you working on now?

We are working on a number of exciting projects including some residential projects, some resorts, like the Four Seasons in Palau, some commercial projects like KLIA, some condominiums, and a show garden in France.

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What or who inspires you?

Mother Teresa but I could never be like her, not in a million lifetimes.

What are your hopes for the future, for yourself and your practice?

The irony of life is that you only get opportunities that you long for in your youth in your dotage. I only want to live long enough to be able to grasp those opportunities and somehow make a difference to the people around me and the environment.

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