Community gardening scheme plants a million native species in a decade

Residents of South West District planting plants in a community garden with guest-of-honour Desmond Lee (third from left) and District Mayor Low Yen Ling (centre, in pink) on Dec 30, 2018. ST PHOTO: JEREMY KWAN
Madam May Lee, who leads a team of 20-odd gardeners in tending three gardens in Bukit Batok Central. ST PHOTO: JEREMY KWAN
Ms Low Siew Min, a garden volunteer at the new linear garden beside Block 458, Jurong West Street 41, that was set up as part of the Green Spaces @ South West initiative. ST PHOTO: JEREMY KWAN

SINGAPORE - Retiree May Lee initially 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 for Mdm Lee.

Today, the healthy 62-year-old leads a team of more than 20 gardeners and tends to three flourishing community gardens, which occupy 20,000 sq ft next to Block 106, Bukit Batok Central.

Cosy Garden, the largest of the three, 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, herbs and more than 30 types of fruit trees including cempedak and mangosteen. When harvested, these crops are distributed among the residents and the underprivileged.

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

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

To date, more than 1 million native plants have been planted across 152 community gardens in the district and tended to by over 3,000 volunteers, including 300 garden leaders like Mdm Lee.

Besides getting to meet like-minded residents, Mdm Lee said the biggest joy of community gardening is seeing the kampung spirit come alive.

"In the day, seniors and children come for a walk in the gardens 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. Mdm Lee does not have grandchildren.

On Sunday (Dec 30), the 1,000,000 Native Plants @ South West programme officially concluded and was rebranded 'Green Spaces @ South West'. The new initiative 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 children 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.

Speaking at the event, 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 adds.

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

Housewife Low Siew Min, 35, joined earlier this month as a volunteer to look after the newly set up linear garden. She lives in a nearby block.

As she is fairly new to gardening, she is hoping to pick up some 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.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.