SINGAPORE - From January, avid gardeners will get to prune, water, grow and harvest plants at the Istana up to three times a month.
They will be able to do so at seven to eight areas inside the Istana, including the Spice Garden, Japanese Garden and the front lawn of the Istana.
The Istana will be open to volunteer gardeners on three days each month, from 9am to noon.
These will be the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the first week of each month except January, when the open days will be in the second week.
Volunteers can pick which session they want to attend once they have signed up. They do not need experience and will be guided by officers from the National Parks' Board (NParks). NParks will provide the gardening tools.
About 50 people have already signed up.
Mr Ho Et Wan, 70, a retiree who used to work in the marine sector, said he will be volunteering at the Istana gardens once a month with his wife.
The pair helped to plant chilli plants in the Istana's Spice Garden at Thursday's launch.
"It is the atmosphere, the volunteers working together and having a good time and relaxing, that I love. I am also happy to be contributing to nature," Mr Ho said.
His wife, Mrs Linda Ho, a retired school teacher, said she loves looking out for plants from her childhood.
"It's like taking myself back to the days of my youth," said Mrs Ho, who does volunteer gardening at Fort Canning Park and Gardens by the Bay as well.
Another volunteer, special needs teacher Jenny Lim said: "I also love the Istana gardens and want to know how it stays so beautiful."
This new Volunteer Gardeners@Istana programme was launched on Thursday (Dec 14) by President Halimah Yacob. She had said earlier that she wanted to make the Istana more accessible to ordinary Singaporeans through new programmes.
Madam Halimah said on Thursday: "The purpose is to encourage Singaporeans who have been doing or are interested in community gardening to come and contribute their ideas and experiences, and help to shape the gardens in the Istana.
"The whole idea is also to engage and reach out to Singaporeans so that they feel there is a part they can play in the Istana garden."
On Thursday, 20 President's Challenge beneficiaries from the Yong-en Care Centre also visited the grounds for a garden tour.
Madam Halimah planted a nutmeg tree, a tropical tree cultivated for two spices from its fruits - the nutmeg and mace.
Before this latest programme, Madam Halimah in November launched the Picnic@Istana series, under which four picnics will be held a year.
Before the new programmes, the public could visit the Istana only during five Open Houses each year, during Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Puasa, Deepavali, Labour Day and National Day.
NParks, which helped develop the new volunteer gardening programme, has often used the Istana grounds as a test bed to experiment with plants potentially suitable for Singapore.
Mr Wong Tuan Wah, group director of Fort Canning and Istana at NParks, said the new programme might be expanded to more days if there is overwhelming response.
Interested gardeners can contact the volunteer coordinators at email@example.com