A herb garden of her own

Among the herbs that retiree Kathy Chua grows are lemon myrtle and lemon verbena, which are more commonly grown in cooler climates.
Among the herbs that retiree Kathy Chua grows are lemon myrtle and lemon verbena, which are more commonly grown in cooler climates.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Retiree Kathy Chua, 65, relies on her herb garden to manage all kinds of ailments.

When she has a toothache, she pops the blooms and leaves of paniculate spot flower plant into her mouth for temporary pain relief. The herb produces a numbing and tingling sensation.

She also makes tea out of the leaves of the moringa plant and cat's whiskers plant to try to lower her high blood pressure and high cholesterol respectively.

Instead of sunblock, she applies the inner leaf gel from her aloe vera plant on her skin.

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Madam Chua's herb garden is grown on a rented plot of land from D'Kranji Farm Resort in Lim Chu Kang. For the past nine years, she has been sharing the 700 sq m space with her two brothers, both in their 50s. The older one is retired while the younger one is working as a factory supervisor.

The brothers grow adenium or "fu gui hua" in Chinese, which are often appreciated for their colourful flowers and unusual thick stems.

If I don't go there, I feel like something is missing from my life. I worry about how my plants are doing.

RETIREE KATHY CHUA, who rents a plot of land from D'Kranji Farm Resort in Lim Chu Kang

Madam Chua's knowledge of herbs came from her days growing up in a kampung and, in recent years, from other hobbyist farmers and visitors at D'Kranji.

She lives in an executive Housing Board flat in Woodlands with her husband and daughter, but the space outside her flat was not enough to support her gardening hobby. There is a community garden near her home, but she did not manage to get a plot there.

The herbs she grows at D'Kranji include common ones such as lemongrass, mint and basil, as well as rarer ones such as lemon myrtle and lemon verbena, which are more commonly found in cooler climates.

She and her siblings sell some of their plants, but the income is not enough to cover the $1,500 monthly rent. It is largely paid for by her factory supervisor brother.

She has eight other siblings, but like her immediate family, they are not involved in her garden.

In the past few years, she has started to share her knowledge with schoolchildren and companies. The resort pays her to conduct educational tours.

She and her retiree brother are at their plot almost every day for four to six hours, resting occasionally under a metal and wood kiosk that they had constructed to shelter them from the elements.

She says: "If I don't go there, I feel like something is missing from my life. I worry about how my plants are doing."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2017, with the headline 'A herb garden of her own'. Print Edition | Subscribe