From the Garden: Weaving a love for nature in the face of dementia

Mr Richard Ashworth learnt how to make ketupat, a rice cake wrapped in woven coconut leaves, when he was a young boy. Now, with a father suffering from severe dementia, he finds solace among coconut trees at a community garden in Bukit Batok Central.

When he was 10 years old, Mr Richard Ashworth picked up the skills of making ketupat in just three days, and soon, he was weaving a hundred of them each day.

"An elderly woman who sold satay had approached me and asked: 'If I give you 30 cents a day, will you work for me?'", said the 65-year-old, who lived in Amoy Street.

To earn extra pocket money, he weaved the coconut leaves into a diamond shape and stuffed them with rice to form ketupat, a rice cake typically eaten with satay.

Now, Mr Ashworth is one of 25 gardeners who care for 16 coconut trees at a community garden in Bukit Batok Central.

The garden has more than 300 types of herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees, as well as a bird enclosure, fish and turtle ponds, landscaping and sculptures.

"The coconut tree leaves from this garden are big, so they are very suitable to make my ketupat. You can tell that the rice cooked from these coconut leaves are more fragrant," he said.

Mr Ashworth has been volunteering at the garden since 2014.

After his father was diagnosed with dementia, the garden became a place of solitude for him.

He said: "When I get too stressed out at home, being with nature helps me destress instead of sitting at home with my father all day."

Born to a poor family of 14, Mr Ashworth was adopted by a British cargo ship captain when he was 21 years old.

His adopted father, Mr John Ashworth, taught him English and later encouraged him to take up sculpture.

"My father pushed me very hard to do to make sculptures. He knew I had a talent for it. Every time I make a sculpture, I make him very happy."

 
 
 
 

Mr Ashworth is also the brainchild behind the garden's landscaping. The community garden, formed in 1994, once had an empty plot of land next to it.

In 2015, he decided to turn the empty land into two open-concept gardens for members of the public to visit and experience art in nature.

Eight of Mr Ashworth's sculptures as well as five made by his son and his friend can be found among the fruit trees and ornamental flower plants in these gardens.

He added: "Sometimes, I also take my father to the garden. Even though he has dementia now and might not be able to show it, I can see the smile on his face."