Istana opening its lush grounds to gardening enthusiasts

The Istana opens its doors to volunteer gardeners up to three times a month. The initiative, launched by President Halimah Yacob, hopes to make the Istana more accessible to Singaporeans.
NParks nature guide volunteer Kwan Sau Kuen (in green), 64, sharing her knowledge of spices with President's Challenge beneficiaries from the Yong-en Care Centre for the elderly during a garden tour of the Istana.
NParks nature guide volunteer Kwan Sau Kuen (in green), 64, sharing her knowledge of spices with President's Challenge beneficiaries from the Yong-en Care Centre for the elderly during a garden tour of the Istana.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

From next month, avid gardeners will get to prune, water, grow and harvest plants in the Istana up to three times a month.

They can do so in seven to eight areas, including the Spice Garden, Japanese Garden and the front lawn of the Istana.

The move to open the gates to gardening enthusiasts is to help meet President Halimah Yacob's expressed desire to make the Istana more accessible to ordinary Singaporeans.

She intends to achieve it through various programmes, and yesterday she launched the second: Volunteer Gardeners@Istana. About 50 people have signed up.

They do not need experience and will be guided by officers from the National Parks Board (NParks), which will also provide the gardening tools. They can volunteer on any of three days each month, from 9am to noon. These are Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the first week of each month except January, when the open days are in the second week.

Yesterday, Mr Ho Et Wan, 70, a retiree who worked in the marine sector, and his wife were among more than 20 volunteers who worked at the Spice Garden.

The couple, who said they will volunteer once a month, helped to plant chillies.

"It is the atmosphere, the volunteers working together and having a good time, that I love,'' said Mr Ho.

Added his wife Linda, 68, a retired school teacher: "I've always loved plants and this is like bringing myself back to the days of my youth." She also volunteers at Fort Canning Park and Gardens by the Bay.

Special needs teacher Jenny Lim, 52, said: "I love the Istana gardens and want to know how it stays so beautiful.''

President Halimah, who chatted with the volunteers for an hour, told reporters: "The purpose is to encourage Singaporeans who have been doing or are interested in community gardening to contribute their ideas and experiences, and help shape the gardens in the Istana.''

In reaching out and engaging Singaporeans, she also hopes people will feel they have a part to play in developing the Istana gardens.

Before the gardening programme, President Halimah introduced the Picnic@Istana series last month. Four picnics will be held a year for children who are beneficiaries of the President's Challenge.

Yesterday, 20 President's Challenge beneficiaries from the Yong-en Care Centre for the elderly visited the Istana for a garden tour.

Previously, people could visit the Istana only during Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Puasa, Deepavali, Labour Day and National Day.

• Interested gardeners can contact the volunteer coordinators at nparks_public_affairs@nparks.gov.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2017, with the headline 'Istana opening its lush grounds to gardening enthusiasts'. Print Edition | Subscribe