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  • Writer's pictureHem Chan Sopheak

From Urban Gardening to Urban Green Spaces

2nd Phnom Penh Plant and Garden Fair at Friends Future Factory (F3) in 2023.

Ever since I was a child, I have always been connected with nature. Helping my dad with our home garden has been one of my most beautiful childhood memories. Our house was situated at the north of Phnom Penh, where, back then, there were many lakes, such as the Ba Yab lake. Those lakes were beyond the reservoirs of the seasonal flood but they were part of our daily lives. We grew a lot of vegetables and fruit crops there.

My profound connection to nature since childhood became a main reason for me to study agronomy at the Royal University of Agriculture. In addition, my decision to delve into agriculture wasn't just an academic choice; it was rooted in my compassion instilled by my grandmother. She, despite facing physical challenges, inspired me with her act of generosity, teaching me the joy of giving to those in need.

Regional Seminar “Economic Development in Laos and the Greater Mekong Region, Laos National University.

My educational journey didn't stop with agriculture. I ventured into teaching, earning a Bachelor of Education degree. Later, I pursued a master's degree in development studies, driven by my passion for the environment and a vision to contribute to society. The journey wasn't confined to Cambodia; I secured scholarships to study in Japan, Laos, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines, gaining exposure and broadening my perspective as an international citizen.

My passion for the environment and gardening led me to focus on urban agriculture, particularly indoor and urban gardens. But why urban gardening? According to the RHS Science Review, research has shown the remarkable depth and range of benefits that gardens provide in urban areas. For example, gardens help to control urban temperatures, protecting us from extreme heat and cold. They help prevent flooding, provide important habitats for wildlife and improve human health both psychologically and physically.

Academic exchange to Nagoya University, Graduate School of International Development in 2018.

During a study field trip at Chiang Mai University that I joined in 2015, all participants including myself were given a tour to Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden. It was fascinating for me to visit a botanical garden for the first time. I remember that each area offered a spectacular experience to learn and experience specific varieties of plants such as orchid nursery, rose garden, etc. From this trip onwards, I often visited botanical gardens and parks on each abroad trip I had, including Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, Japan and Taipei Botanical Garden in Taipei, Taiwan.

Cambodia’s rapid economic growth over the past decade accelerated urban construction in and around Phnom Penh. However, the natural environment and open spaces within city boundaries have been decreasing continuously. This draws my concern toward sustaining our neighborhoods and cities. Upon earning several years of professional experience at a local independent think-tank and an international development agency, I decided to create a start-up in mid-2019, aiming not just to earn an income but also to raise awareness about a different variety of plants and urban gardening. I named my business “Jungle à Domicile” in French, which means 'jungle at home' in English.

This start-up journey has provided me with chances to learn from customers and develop products and services based on their demands. I have learnt that there were significantly increasing numbers of people growing houseplants during the pandemic between early 2021 and 2022. As a consequence, I co-founded the ground-breaking Phnom Penh Plant and Garden Fair, which was held for 2 days with a presence of 2,000 people in July 2022. The fair also celebrates National Arbor Day which is held annually on 9th July.

Planting and growing at home has become highly popular amongst Phnom Penh residents.

This fair has now become a leading platform connecting plant enthusiasts and promoting knowledge about plants, gardens and urban green spaces to the public. I believe in collective effort and cooperation and my favorite quote, from Helen Keller, 'alone we can do so little, together we can do so much' always gives me inspiration and serves as a reminder.

Urban gardening is not just a healthy hobby but an act toward creating sustainable cities. It’s about education, health, and well-being. In essence, urban gardening is a powerful tool for sustainable development and a healthier, more resilient future.


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