Hedrick Kwan has a bold, charismatic and vivacious personality, which also translates to his gardening and landscaping style, and contemporary approach to creating food pairings. He runs Plant Visionz, a landscaping business specialising in edibles and orchids, and is a classically trained horticulturist.
Highly experienced, he takes a practical approach to landscaping projects but is also intuitive and open to try new, unexpected combinations, and he has a beautiful flagship project to show for it. Hedrick kindly gave me a tour around Portico, a restaurant off Alexandra Road, where he has grown a mix of edible plants for use by the establishment, such as Hyacinth Beans, Ceylon Spinach, Ulam Raja, Fennel, Sweet Potato Leaves, Limes, and mini Cucumbers.
He has also grown a wonderful medley of herbs, often together in containers with other plants, which is not only a clever space saving idea, but it also works in terms of companion planting, and looks great too. These herbs are used in cocktails also, basil flowers is one such example. Hedrick, who’s profession also includes being a Horticulture Culinarist – one who puts together food concepts and recipes using plants, also teaches cooking classes, and is a curious food forager, on the look out for edible plants off the sidewalks of Singapore.
What really impressed me about Hedrick’s plants were how healthy and pest-free they looked, save for the grasshopper below. He shared that one specialty of his is to encourage vigourous growth in his plants, as you’ll see in the following photos.
I spoke with Hedrick to find out more about his love for gardening and naturally, food.
1. You knew from a young age that you enjoy working with plants, and even studied horticulture production at university and hold a honours degree in orchid genetics. How did this love of plants come about?
When I was 21, I lost interests in tropical fish as a hobby and potential career. I could not get into the fish market league after many years of breeding different types of fish. The market was much like Stock exchange. Your fish can be worth $10 today and $2 the next. I saw an Dendrobium Sonia flowering at the drive way and thought to myself. The price of orchids don’t fluctuate much like fish. Its pretty constant. They look pretty and interesting to grow and started buy different types to try. I met very helpful experience orchid growers that thought me the basics and later tricks on how to make them grow even better. I like to thank Koh Keng Hoe, How Wai Ron , Loh Mei Hua and Teo Peng Seng.
2. As a Horticulture Culinarist, you veer towards edible landscaping. What are some of your favourite plants, and why?
I like to use these plant parts in my cooking: Turmeric leaf: Amazing smell in stews and easy to grow from supermarket roots, saw tooth coriander leaf: easier to grow then normal coriander with similar smell, Pink cosmos (Ulam Raja) whole plant except roots: Taste like mango and its a welcoming weed, Torenia flower: easy to flower, pest-free, loves lots of sun and very pretty in food, Wild pepper (Piper Sarmentosum): Grows anywhere, prefer shade and taste like potato chip when fried in tempura batter and Moringa leaf: super nutrition in the leaves, most useful tree ever.
3. You’ve done a great job at Portico, which has lots of healthy looking plants and no pest problems, do you have any tips on growing strong, productive plants?
Fertilizer is the key and spent coffee waste is what gets thrown in. The other would be plenty of water, putting the right plant in the right light condition and plant a mix of plants in an area instead of just one type. Pests get confused.
4. When it comes to “foodscaping”, I love how space-efficient you are with the use of planters, from growing with woolly pockets, living wall planters, to growing a few plants together in the same pot. You mentioned that you don’t like to leave any area ungrown, what other principles do you adhere to when designing a garden?
Grow the plants most suitable for the location. If the same plant dies after 2 tries…swap it for something else. Mix up what you grow in one area. Companion planting is like growing tall plants and short plants in the same space, use local and abundant materials. Soil structure is top priority. If the area is water logged, add aggregates into the soil mix for drainage, add compost till the soil turns dark, raise beds!!! so you can control and keep the good stuff in during heavy rain.
5. Do you have any advice for apartment dwellers who are first time gardeners?
Buy 2 to 3 plants at a time to see what works. Please remember to water!!! I killed mine because I overlooked it till it was too late. 🙁
6. You also enjoy foraging plants growing off pedestrian pathways. In your opinion, what are some of the most undervalued “weeds” commonly found in Singapore?
Emilia Sonchifolia: Taste like lettuce, Youngia Japonica: taste like lettuce, Hydrocotyle Asiatica: Great nutty taste and good for memory, Oxalis Corniculata: Lovely acidic taste
7. You love edible flowers and use them in food preparations, what are some edible flowers that are easy to grow in our climate, and how can people use them in their food?
That would be Hibiscus, Ixora Javanica, Torenia, Long / Four angle/ Sword Bean flowers, Pumpkin (if you have space), Ulam Raja (filaments taste best) and Blue Pea Flower.
I didn’t manage to capture photos of his space saving woolly pockets and living wall planters, so here are some photos taken from Plant Visionz’s Facebook page. Here, you can find out about Hedrick’s projects, and if you’re wondering about edible landscaping plants for small spaces, here‘s a great list compiled by Hedrick some time back.
Portico is located at 991B Alexandra Road, #01-10, a short walk from Labrador Park MRT, if you’re thinking of paying them a visit.