The woes of community gardens make a vivid point about the delicate balance between public and private spaces in Singapore. It is no small matter that there are close to 1,000 such gardens, started by the National Parks Board, in a tiny city-state. They symbolise efforts to cater to Singaporeans' love of nature, a habit inherited from their kampung days and retained through decades of concrete development. The gardens represent the public homage which Singaporeans pay to a collective and nostalgic past.
Yet, they are in a sense private spaces as well. They provide individuals and families an opportunity to leave their personal imprint on a common space. Gardening can be an intensely gratifying personal experience, where the rewards lie in seeing nature giving back to humans what they plant and nurture with the labour of their own hands.
Seniors, in particular, tend to appreciate more the potential of gardening for recreation, relaxation and green education. Gardening also represents trust in the plenitude of nature. And it serves as a symbolic reminder of the rejuvenative capacity of the nation - reassurance that future generations can survive no matter what arises.
Hence, Singaporeans need to move beyond minor differences to ensure the health of community gardening. Clearly, the theft of fruit lies beyond the pale. And dispensing medical advice along with cultivated herbs is a practice best left to certified practitioners of traditional medicine. National laws must prevail everywhere, including in gardening spaces that seek to combine public provision with private initiative.
What is needed is a mindset that sees these gardens as sites of community bonding. They attract Singaporeans irrespective of ethnicity, class and gender. Community gardens could be an iconic motif of this country, particularly if children too learn to love the fruitfulness of such spaces.