For someone who talks the talk, it can't be said that The Free Tree Society founder and president Baida Jane Hercus doesn't walk the walk. This industrious environmentalist has been busy at the helm of The Free Tree Society KL since 2012, ongoing in its mission to give as many plants away as possible to members of the public, encouraging greener habits for mother earth's sake.

Baida's efforts make it possible for more people to become everyday eco-warriors, one seedling at a time. Here's how you can start.

1 / 7

Good soil, great garden

Good soil is the secret to any healthy, thriving garden. Baida has this advice for first-time gardeners:

“Take the time to improve your soil with compost, minerals, and worms. When plants are getting the right nutrients, they don’t just grow well, they actually repel pests and diseases.”

She recommends learning all the basics about soil from gardening videos online before following it up with learning about planting skills.

Read also: What Dr Renard Siew is doing to ensure water security for Malaysia's future

2 / 7

Plant what you love

You might be wondering if gardening is worth the effort for someone with no affinity for plants in the first place.

“If we don’t love plants, animals and nature –if we don’t understand them, how can we save our earth from the environmental and ecological problems plaguing it?” Baida says.

“Having plants is the first and vital step to connecting with the earth. Start by planting what you love and what you have time for.”

Any planting you do should fit your lifestyle and interests. Here’s what Baida means by planting what you have time for: plant things you can eat if you love to cook. Plant flowers if you love colours; leafy ornamentals if you love lounging.

Even those who travel can manage just fine with low-maintenance plants like cacti, succulents or air plants.

3 / 7

Keep it simple

“New gardeners, do not start with roses, lavender, or rosemary,” Baida cautions. ‘Everyone likes to start with these plants – but they’re the hardest to master as they’re not suited to our climate.”

It's not hard to spot which plants grow well in our humid, tropical climate. It also won't hurt to do a little extra searching to find a good, hardy plant that suits your home and your daily routine.  

Don't miss: 7 Kuala Lumpur F&B outlets that have refused the plastic straw

4 / 7

Stay away from stagnant water

Many people mistakenly believe that growing plants will attract mosquitoes and other pests.

“Plants don’t breed mosquitoes, stagnant water does! If your garden does not have water pooling, you won’t have a mosquito problem.” Baida says.

That said, it’s only natural that certain animals are attracted to places with bio-diversity – and no garden is without its share of interesting visitors.

5 / 7

Keep an open mind

While it’s easy to relish the sight of birds, butterflies and bees paying a visit to the plants in your area – it’s harder to deal with the less popular critters like snakes, small mammals, or certain insects.

Unsurprisingly, Baida has an entirely different view to offer.

“I find it upsetting to see photos of snakes beaten to death with brooms - they are usually a variety that is of no threat to anyone. Most of our city snakes are harmless and non-venomous to humans.

“If I see a snake in the garden, I walk away and garden somewhere else. Our human footprint is too large, and we must make the effort to co-exist peacefully and to protect all wildlife, both flora and fauna, in our environment,” she says.

Related reads: Can the future of food be meat-free?

6 / 7

Patience: a must-have in gardening

Baida admits that the ‘feel-good’ factor in doing anything for the environment is considerably less tangible than many other causes. Growing plants is an important life skill that involves effort and cost, though the benefits are long-term.  

“I have worked with various NGOs and know that people are drawn to animals, to children or to feeding the marginalised where the response from doing good is immediate.

“A tree will not smile back, unfortunately.”

Baida bought an off-grid hobby farm in Janda Baik where she and her family now live. It’s given her the opportunity to control her food supply and utilise eco-friendly farming practices.

“Plateau Farm is my slice of heaven on earth. We grow as much as we can to supplement our lifestyle – coffee, tea, fruits, veggies, herbs, spices, eggs, fish, and milk. We are currently experimenting with growing paddy.

“I know, without a doubt, that the food I feed my family is chemical-free, and that my farming practices and lifestyle are of low impact to the environment.”  

7 / 7

‘Adopt’ a plant that someone else has grown

Last year, the Free Tree Society gave away more than 8,500 plants to homeowners, schools, orphanages, community gardens, shelters and other NGOs.

In giving out plants that they’ve nurtured and cared for, they’re able to share with visitors about sustainable garden practices and the habits of environmental stewardship.

“At our nursery in Bangsar, I invite visitors to smell and taste all sorts of strange things – leaves, flowers, berries.

“We grow large pots of mint and I have guests guess their unique scent – is it peppermint, spearmint, or chocolate mint? I love seeing that moment their eyes pop open with surprise. Their next question is usually ‘can I have one? How do I grow all of this?’” 

This year, the Free Tree Society will be launching a crowd-funded “environmental awareness vehicle” – a mobile nursery, essentially – to take the green message to schools across the peninsula. 

To find out more about the Free Tree Society and how you can get involved, click here or send an email to

Read also: This social entrepreneur reveals 6 ways to live more sustainably