Community gardening program plants a million native species in a decade

SINGAPORE — Pensioner May Lee first took up gardening after her doctor advised her to spend more time in the sun to boost her vitamin D levels after a severe meningitis attack in 2012.

What started as a means of recovery turned into a hobby for Mdm Lee.

Today, the healthy 62-year-old leads a team of more than 20 gardeners and tends to three thriving community gardens, which occupy 20,000 square feet next to Block 106, Bukit Batok Central.

Cozy Garden, the largest of the three, has a koi pond, a turtle pond, and unique crops such as asparagus and Brazilian vines primarily for educational purposes, as children from nearby daycares visit it regularly.

The other two gardens are home to edible plants such as vegetables, herbs and over 30 types of fruit trees including cempedak and mangosteen. Once harvested, these crops are distributed between the inhabitants and the underprivileged.

“Neighbors help watch over the gardens and remind others not to pick fruits and vegetables until they are ripe so the children can watch them and we can harvest when the time is right,” said Mdm Lee.

The gardens are some of the fruits of the labor of 1,000,000 Native Plants @ South West – a 10-year initiative launched in 2008 by the South West Community Development Council (CDC) and the National Parks Board (NParks) with the aim to plant 1 million native plants in the district.

To date, over a million native plants have been planted in 152 community gardens across the district and tended by over 3,000 volunteers, including 300 garden leaders like Mdm Lee.

Along with meeting like-minded residents, Mdm Lee said the greatest joy of community gardening is seeing the kampung spirit come to life.

“During the day, seniors and children come for a walk in the gardens and in the evening, young couples bring their children after work to play. The volunteers also come as they can and we all contribute” , she said. Mdm Lee has no grandchildren.

On Sunday, December 30, the 1,000,000 Native Plants @ South West program officially ended and was renamed “Green Spaces @ South West”. The new initiative will focus more on creating an inclusive and active community through gardening.

To coincide with its launch, a 30m-long linear garden has been laid out in the open space next to Block 458, Jurong West Street 41.

The accessible garden is accessible to all, with children and wheelchair-friendly flower boxes built at a lower height. Next to them are chest and eye level planters for older gardeners so they don’t have to bend over to tend to the plants.

Speaking at the event, Southwest District Mayor Low Yen Ling said she sees community gardens as a way to encourage more interaction among residents.

“I hope this will serve as a basis to attract residents, who may not have a green thumb to begin with, and also attract older people, especially those who are socially isolated, to spend some time at the sunshine,” she added.

Ms. Low, along with Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee, who also attended the event, planted seeds in a planter with residents.

Housewife Low Siew Min, 35, joined earlier this month as a volunteer to tend the newly set up linear garden. She lives in a neighboring block.

As she is relatively new to gardening, she hopes to get advice from seasoned gardeners. “Some of the gardeners here have a lot of experience and I hope to learn how to grow chili peppers, which are my favorite,” she said.

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