RC concerned over gardener giving medical tips along with herbs: 6 things to know about Singapore's community gardens

 Visitors taking photos of a koi pond in a community garden in Bukit Batok Central.
Visitors taking photos of a koi pond in a community garden in Bukit Batok Central.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A dispute between a veteran gardener and a residents' committee (RC) over how a community garden should be run was taken online last week, triggering a debate over the regulations that govern such gardens.

The gardener, 73-year-old Jurong West resident Tan Thean Teng, had been a volunteer caretaker of one near his home for 14 years, where he dispensed medical advice along with the herbs he doled out.

But the RC, which operates the garden, was not comfortable that residents were ingesting herbs from the garden on Mr Tan's advice as he is self-taught.

Here's what to know about community gardens in Singapore.

1. Initiative started in May 2005

That was when the Community In Bloom programme, a nationwide gardening movement aimed at fostering community spirit, was launched by the National Parks Board (NParks).

The first community garden was in the private housing estate of Mayfair Park in Bukit Timah, where an open monsoon drain was converted into a 100m-long walkway for residents to grow chillies, basil leaves and other spices.

The garden along the 100m-long walkway at Mayfair Park won the first prize at the National Parks Board's first Community In Bloom Awards under the Private Housing Estates category in 2005. PHOTO: ANDREW TAN

Today, there are nearly 1,000 community gardens - engaging over 20,000 people - across Singapore and they are found mainly in four areas: in public and private housing estates, schools and organisations like hospitals.

2. How do you start one?

Residents attending to the community garden in Woodlands Street 81, which has eight plots growing plants such as pandan. PHOTO: ST FILE

The NParks website lists five easy steps to do so:

- Form a gardening group and gather support from the relevant authority.

- Identify a suitable site by considering factors such as a ready water source, amount of sunlight, inherent ground conditions and safety considerations.

- Organise a sharing session for participants where NParks will provide tips on good gardening practices and ideas on setting up the garden.

- Under the guidance of NParks, plan your garden by deciding on the theme, plant selection, size of garden and design.

- Plant your garden by engaging a contractor and purchasing plants and gardening materials and tools.

3. Where can community gardens be located?

Residents viewing the vegetables grown in the community garden located between blocks 404 and 405 at Ang Mo Kio Ave 10. PHOTO: ST FILE

For public housing estates: to be situated in common green areas within HBD estates or nearby parks.

For private housing estates: Homeowners may set up roadside gardens on the green verges in front of their homes, in their estates or in nearby parks. Condominium residents are encouraged to garden within their estates or along the roadside verge fronting/alongside their estates.

For schools: to be situated in the compounds of schools or at common green spaces within the neighbourhood.

For organisations: to be situated within the premises of organisations such as hospitals, welfare homes or places of worship, or at common green spaces within the neighbourhood.

4. Who's responsible for maintaining them?

A resident removing weeds from her vegetable patch in Bukit Panjang Community Gardens along Petir Road. PHOTO: ST FILE

In HDB estates, the gardens are cultivated by residents and managed by the respective RCs. Some are funded by town councils while most are self-funded.

In schools, they are cultivated and maintained by students, teachers and volunteers.

In organisations, staff and volunteers are responsible for them.

Homeowners in private housing estates, meanwhile, are directly responsible for their own community gardens.

5. Biennial Community in Bloom competition

Tampines Greenvale’s community garden (pictured) was one of 14 community gardens to win a Diamond Award at the Community in Bloom Awards in 2016. PHOTO: ST FILE

Started by NParks, community gardens which take part are judged in three areas - community involvement, garden quality and environment quality and biodiversity.

They are then awarded different achievement bands: bronze, silver, gold or platinum. Gardens that achieve three consecutive platinum bandings win the Diamond award, which was first introduced in 2014.

Last year, the Diamond award went to 14 gardens in places such as HDB estates, schools, a condominium estate and a mosque. Winners received a $1,000 cash prize and gardening equipment.

6. Notable gardens

- Eng Kong and Cheng Soon Community Garden in Bukit Batok

Community members tending their plots at the Eng Kong and Cheng Soon Community Garden. PHOTO: ST FILE

The largest of its kind in a private estate, measuring 50m by 44m, was started in November 2016 at the cost of $22,500.

Applicants ballot for the 90 plots available - all have been taken up - for $50 a year.

The neighbourhood committee's chairman Mark Yuen told The Straits Times last year that there are plans to beautify the garden with sculptures and trellises.

- Goldhill Avenue Community Garden in Bukit Timah

The Moulmein Goldhill Neighbourhood Committee Garden (above) was the first community garden to be set up on state land in a private housing estate. PHOTO: CREATURES STUDIOS PTE LTD

In April 2012, then National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan praised the garden in his blog for fostering a "kampung spirit" and drawing birds like hornbills to feed on the fruits grown there.

While hornbills were a common sight in Singapore 100 years ago, they gradually disappeared with urbanisation.

The garden was the first community garden set up on state land in a private housing estate, with the 464 sq m plot leased from the Singapore Land Authority at a concessionary rate.

Fruits such as starfruit, guava and bananas grow in the green haven.

- Community garden at Al-Mukminin Mosque in Jurong East

The garden at the Al-Mukminin Mosque in Jurong East Street 21 won the Diamond award (organisations category) at the biennial Community In Bloom Awards 2016. PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD

Built in 2010, the 30 sq m garden boasts various plants such as aloe vera, bougainvillea, orchids and five fruit trees.

Its tranquillity is popular with members who rest there, and is also a sought-after photography spot for couples during their marriage solemnisation.

It was a recipient of the Diamond Award last year.

Source: NParks