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.
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?
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?
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?
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
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
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
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
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.