Getting kids involved in gardening

A bittergourd plant (above) and the flower of an okra plant in Ms Mabel Wee's community garden plot in Haig Road.
A bittergourd plant (above) and the flower of an okra plant in Ms Mabel Wee's community garden plot in Haig Road.PHOTO: DON WONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
A bittergourd plant (above) and the flower of an okra plant in Ms Mabel Wee's community garden plot in Haig Road.
A bittergourd plant and the flower of an okra plant (above) in Ms Mabel Wee's community garden plot in Haig Road.PHOTO: DON WONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Account director Mabel Wee used to think she did not have green fingers.

Today, the 39-year-old has a thriving vegetable and herb rack along the corridor outside her HDB flat and at two plots - one at a community plot nearby and another at HortPark.

She has been trying to grow herbs such as rosemary, lemon balm and basil to make drinks or add flavour to them since she and her husband moved into their three-room HDB flat in 2009.

"But they did not last very long. I had to buy new ones from the nursery every two to three months," says the mother of two young children.

In June 2015, she saw a vegetable rack in her daughter's pre-school and was blown away by the variety of vegetables that was grown in such a compact space.

She contacted the supplier, Gardens With Purpose, and bought the same system. "I thought it would be a good way for my children to learn about different types of vegetables and become interested in eating them."

She was surprised to see the vegetable rack doing well after a few months and attributed it largely to the "useful tips" from Ms Joanne Ng, the founder of Gardens With Purpose who helped her install the system.

She went on to attend Ms Ng's workshop on growing organic vegetables. When the company offered a trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand, in December 2015 to learn about organic farming, she decided to sign up for it and went with her husband and children.

"It's a great way to combine a holiday with an interest. I also wanted to go to an agriculture-focused area and see real farmers in padi fields doing organic farming," she says.

In Chiang Mai, she and other participants attended lectures on organic farming taught by professors at Maejo University, visited a fruit orchard and dined at organic cafes. They also shopped at plant wholesale markets and stayed overnight at an organic farm.

When she returned home, she decided to get a plot in the community garden near her flat so that she could grow "bigger plants". At the 3 by 6m plot, she planted fruit trees such as mango and avocado as well as vegetables such as sweet potato leaves, bittergourd and lady's fingers. She also has a little "Thai garden" corner, where she grows Thai basil, lemongrass, chilli and kaffir lime, which she uses to cook her favourite Thai dishes, tom yum soup and Thai basil chicken and pork.

 
 

Before she leaves for work every morning, she goes to her community plot to water her plants and on weekends, she is there to prune or harvest. Her husband helps her with heavy work such as carrying bags of soil; her children help plant seeds and water the plants.

She says: "I want to involve my children in my gardening journey and let them realise that they can grow what they eat, instead of just getting it from the supermarket."

In June last year, she learnt that plots could be rented at HortPark and decided to sign up for a 5 sq m plot, paying about $365 for a three-year lease.

Once every two months, she visits the plot, where she grows hardy plants such as lady's fingers and xiao bai cai. Between her visits, gardeners from neighbouring plots help her water her plants.

"I like the idea of community gardening and learning from and sharing with one another."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2017, with the headline 'Getting kids involved in gardening'. Print Edition | Subscribe