1 million plants the fruit of community's labour

Retiree May Lee leads a team of over 20 gardeners and tends to three flourishing community gardens next to Block 106 Bukit Batok Central. Housewife Low Siew Min is a new volunteer who will look after the newly set-up linear garden. Left: Social and F
Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee (in green shirt) and South West District Mayor Low Yen Ling (in pink top with white dots) planting some seeds with residents at yesterday’s event, where the 1,000,000 Native Plants @ South West initiative was rebranded as Green Spaces @ South West.ST PHOTO: JEREMY KWAN
Retiree May Lee leads a team of over 20 gardeners and tends to three flourishing community gardens next to Block 106 Bukit Batok Central. Housewife Low Siew Min is a new volunteer who will look after the newly set-up linear garden. Left: Social and F
Retiree May Lee leads a team of over 20 gardeners and tends to three flourishing community gardens next to Block 106 Bukit Batok Central.ST PHOTO: JEREMY KWAN
Retiree May Lee leads a team of over 20 gardeners and tends to three flourishing community gardens next to Block 106 Bukit Batok Central. Housewife Low Siew Min is a new volunteer who will look after the newly set-up linear garden. Left: Social and F
Housewife Low Siew Min is a new volunteer who will look after the newly set-up linear garden.ST PHOTO: JEREMY KWAN
Retiree May Lee leads a team of over 20 gardeners and tends to three flourishing community gardens next to Block 106 Bukit Batok Central. Housewife Low Siew Min is a new volunteer who will look after the newly set-up linear garden. Left: Social and F
Children from My First Skool doing artwork at the child- and wheelchair-friendly planter boxes of the new linear garden yesterday.ST PHOTO: JEREMY KWAN

Retiree May Lee took up gardening after her doctor advised her to spend more time in the sun to boost her Vitamin D levels following a severe bout of meningitis in 2012.

What started as a means of recuperation blossomed into a hobby.

Today, the 62-year-old, who used to run an optical shop, leads a team of over 20 gardeners and tends to three flourishing community gardensthat occupy 20,000 sq ft next to Block 106 Bukit Batok Central.

Cosy Garden, the largest, has a koi pond, turtle pond and unique crops, such as asparagus and Brazilian grape trees, mainly for educational purposes, as children from nearby childcare centres visit it regularly.

The other two gardens are home to edible plants such as vegetables and herbs, and over 30 types of fruit trees, including cempedak and mangosteen. When harvested, these crops are distributed among the residents and underprivileged.

Said Madam Lee: "The neighbours help to look out for the gardens and remind others to not pluck fruits and vegetables before they are ripe, so children can look at them and we can harvest when the time comes."

The gardens are some of the fruits of labour of 1,000,000 Native Plants @ South West - a 10-year-long initiative started in 2008 by the South West Community Development Council and National Parks Board to plant one million native plants in the district.

Today, there are more than one million native plants across 152 community gardens, tended to by over 3,000 volunteers, including 300 garden leaders like Madam Lee.

She said the biggest joy of community gardening is seeing the kampung spirit come alive. "In the day, seniors and children come for a walk, and in the evening, young couples bring their kids down after work to play. The volunteers also come as and when they can and we all contribute," she said.

Yesterday, the programme officially concluded and was rebranded as Green Spaces @ South West, which will focus more on creating an inclusive and active community through gardening.

To coincide with its launch, a 30m-long linear garden was set up in the open space next to Block 458 Jurong West Street 41.

The barrier-free garden is accessible to all, with child-and wheelchair-friendly planter boxes built at a lower height. Next to them are planter boxes at chest and eye levels for elderly gardeners so they do not have to bend over to tend to the plants.

South West District Mayor Low Yen Ling said she sees the community gardens as a way to encourage more interaction among residents.

"Hopefully, this will act as a base to attract residents, who may not have green fingers for a start, and also draw out the elderly, especially those who are socially isolated, to spend a bit of time under the sun," she said.

Ms Low and Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee, who was also at the event, planted some seeds in a planter box with residents.

Housewife Low Siew Min, 35, who is new to gardening, this month volunteered to look after the new linear garden. She hopes to pick up tips from seasoned gardeners.

"Some of the gardeners here have a lot of experience and I'm hoping to learn how to grow chilli plants, which are my favourite," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2018, with the headline '1 million plants the fruit of community's labour'. Print Edition | Subscribe