Turf wars over community gardens

The locked community garden at 552, Serangoon North Ave 3, has forced some residents to grow their own plants outside their flats and on other plots of land in the estate:
The locked community garden at 552, Serangoon North Ave 3, has forced some residents to grow their own plants outside their flats and on other plots of land in the estate:ST PHOTO: RACHEL AU-YONG

Gardeners complain of stolen fruit, plants trampled; MPs want to reverse the situation

Community gardens are meant to unite neighbours over their shared love for greening, but some have ended up being the subject of turf wars instead.

Alongside plants and flowers, locks have become a feature at many of them as some gardeners try to fend off others who pick the fruits of their labour. This propels some frustrated residents to look for alternative plots of land around the estate, planting where they can.

Such issues have emerged in the wake of a tussle between a veteran gardener and his residents' committee (RC) in Chua Chu Kang GRC.

The RC had asked Mr Tan Thean Teng, 73, to stop dispensing medical advice along with his herbs, as well as to involve more immediate neighbours in gardening. Mr Tan moved out to a commercial farm in Kranji.

Some now question if the gardens have lived up to their goal of community bonding. There are close to 1,000 community gardens started by the National Parks Board. But town councils or RCs are free to develop their own rules on how the gardens should be run.

  • Illegal for unregistered person to practise TCM

  • The Ministry of Health has made clear that only registered practitioners can carry out traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practices, such as the prescription of herbal medicine for treatment.

    It sent this statement in response to queries from The Straits Times, following a recent case of a veteran community gardener whom residents approached for herbs with medicinal properties. He would give them the herbs from the community garden in Jurong West, along with medical advice.

    Last week, he said he would no longer be maintaining the garden at his Housing Board estate.

    Said MOH yesterday: "To be a registered practitioner, one must hold a recognised qualification and pass the Singapore TCM- Physicians Registration Examination."

    Under the TCM Act, it is an offence for a person who is not registered as a TCM practitioner to practise, advertise or claim to be qualified to carry out prescribed TCM practice. If convicted, first-time offenders can be fined up to $25,000 and jailed for six months.

    MOH advised those with medical problems to exercise due diligence and consult the relevant healthcare professionals.

    Rachel Au-Yong

And some have allowed the gardens to be locked by a handful of users - perhaps understandably so, with many gardeners telling The Straits Times they pump in as much as $6,000 a year of their own money to keep the gardens flourishing.

Madam Kamisah Atah, 60, manages and locks the rooftop garden at Block 372A, Jurong East Avenue, after people began picking the fruit. Now, residents are allowed in only when the housewife is present. She said: "Gardening is a very tedious job and it's very demoralising when we see that people have taken our fruit and damaged our plants in the process."

Mr Joseph Lim, 47, the immediate former chairman for Punggol Coral RC, said: "Sadly not everyone in Singapore is mature enough to respect public property." He added that he balanced locking the gardens with hosting frequent activities inside.

But Mr Ismail Mohamed, 78, a part-time cleaner, says he feels unwelcome at the garden near his home at Block 551, Serangoon North Avenue 3.

So he has small pots of plants outside his flat, while his nephew, who lives next door, takes care of two small banana trees, two papaya trees and a curry leaf plant at a plot of land outside his home.

Technically, these require permission from the town council, which they do not have. But Mr Ismail said: "This is the only way we can plant without judgment and fuss."

Some MPs are working to open up the gardens to all for them to be a true community space.

In Tampines GRC, where Mr Desmond Choo is an MP, a garden at Block 842G, Tampines Street 82, is open 24 hours a day and there have been no major complaints, he said.

He is working on getting other gardeners to open up their green spaces to residents. "If we have fences, it should be low ones to keep out animals, not people," he said.

Most MPs said they host regular "harvest days", when gardeners open the gardens to residents to pick fruit, vegetables and herbs.

Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Zainal Sapari said he has only one "rule" when community gardens are set up: "The gardeners must allow the kindergarten kids to go in so that the garden can become an outdoor learning classroom."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'Community gardens under lock and key'. Print Edition | Subscribe