Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Gardens

Take a non-Chinese businessman and philanthropist with an interest in agriculture, add a growing population of displaced Chinese fleeing Mao and a little good luck and what do you get? The Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden in the New Territories. With cooler days ahead in the autumn months, this 148-hectare farm and botanic sanctuary makes a wonderful outing.

The Farm was founded in 1956 by Sir Horace Kadoorie, a member of an influential Jewish family that emigrated to Hong Kong from Baghdad via India and Shanghai. Sir Horace seemed to embrace the saying “give a man a fish, he eats today; teach a man to fish, he eats forever” when assisting Jewish refugees in Shanghai during World War II. After moving to Hong Kong, he turned his attention to helping Chinese refugees. Through the early part of the 20th Century, it had been assumed that Hong Kong’s steep, rocky terrain, hot weather, and drenching rains would not support farming. But, according to the KFBG website (KFBG.org), fortune smiled on Sir Horace and his team in 1956, when they found an abandoned tangerine tree growing on the slope of Tai Mo Shan. If this tree could survive without any tending, the thinking went, imagine what could grow with proper attention. The farm is on terraces running along a steep slope up the northern side of Tai Mo Shan, the highest mountain in Hong Kong. The space is divided into two major zones – the lower level with the demonstration gardens, the chickens and bee hives, and the farm store; and the upper level that’s home to lovely tributes to the founding Kadoorie family, T.S. Woo, and a butterfly garden and orchid sanctuary (access here is limited to guided tours). A shuttle bus takes visitors up to this higher section of the garden, but on my mid-summer visit, I set out on foot, wanting to take in the planting and gardening efforts close-up.

 A network of footpaths winds through the demonstration garden full of Mediterranean and Asian herbs and vegetables. Signposts describe different ways to set up a small garden to maximize water and sunlight resources and simplify garden maintenance.  From here, I walked steadily uphill, staying close to the creek and under shade. I was rewarded with beautiful sitting zones, flowering tropical plants, and the rumble of the water tumbling down hill. Beyond the creek, the only sounds were the cackle and clucks from the chicken coop and the occasional jet above. At the juncture to climb still further, I paused. Farm workers, many wearing the traditional fringed hakka hats, were moving hoses and transplanting trees and shrubs. Many of these gardens were off limits to the lone visitor, and, having not paid for the shuttle bus ride to the higher reaches of the garden, I turned back down hill, following a different path to the farm store. Along the way, there was a warning that an active beehive was nearby. Arriving at the air-conditioned store, they sold organic plants, eggs from the chickens, books on organic farming, and some organic food items. A timeline chronicles the efforts of the Kadoorie Farm and the commitment to self-sufficiency and education.

The farm offers a wide slate of educational activities for children, farmers, and botanists in both Chinese and English. October at the farm will bring a variety of fall fruits and vegetables, including eggplant, mustard greens, and pomelo. Visitors will see a variety of orchids in bloom, plus three varieties of the official Hong Kong flower, the Bauhinia. As part of his commitment to assisting Chinese refugees in Hong Kong, Sir Horace began giving cows and pigs to families in need, especially widows. The website includes testimonials from several people whose mothers received a cow, as well as photos of Sir Horace giving the bovines to the small, simply dressed women. The proverb was proven: the families thrived, thanks to the vision and generosity of the Kadoorie Farm.

Getting there: From Hong Kong Island’s Admiralty Station, it takes about 1 hour to get to the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden. Starting at Admiralty Station, take the Tsuen Wan (Red Line) to Tsim Sha Tsui and walk to East Tsim Sha Tsui Station. Transfer to the West Rail Line train going toward Tuen Mun. Exit at Kam Sheung Road. From there, take the No. 64 bus (20-minute ride). Arriving at the Farm, a shuttle bus takes visitors up to the summit, or you can walk the many trails.

By Rachel Parker