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  Straits Times 2 Nov 07
Green Thumbs Up
Neighbourly love is growing as residents plant vegetables and flowers together under the Community In Bloom scheme
By Tay Suan Chiang

Straits Times 2 Nov 07
Kampung spirit thrives
Tay Suan Chiang

THE simple desire to grow sunflowers led legal secretary Lynnette Terh, 37, to approach her residents' committee (RC) in Punggol to start a community garden.

'It is a flower seldom seen growing in Singapore and it is very eye-catching,' says Ms Terh, who lives with her husband.

The RC took a shine to the idea, and Ms Terh, who is now also the RC secretary, set about finding a suitable plot of land. From the bedroom of her 12th-storey, five-room HDB flat, she could see several plots of empty land, and got permission from her RC to turn one plot into a garden.

For the past year and a half, a plot near Block 126A Edgedale Plains has been transformed into an oasis of fruit, vegetables and ornamental delights such as airplants, pitcher plants and orchids.

Ms Terh has been working on the community plot, named Punggol Coral Garden, along with about 11 other members. It was officially opened in August.

To be a member of the gardening team, those who are green-finger-inclined must be residents in the surrounding blocks, and they must be committed to gardening, says Ms Terh, who is leader of the community garden team. They are given space to grow whatever they wish. 'But their plot must be neat, and what they grow should be useful,' she says.

The dedicated leader has spent more than $2,000 out of her own pocket buying plants, and does her gardening after work and on weekends.

A fence runs around the garden, and members are given keys to enter.

The other members of the Punggol Coral Garden are mostly housewives and retirees. The latter includes Ricky Goh, 65, who plants papayas and balsam plants and has even made two ponds to grow aquatic plants. One of his papaya trees bore 100 papayas over the space of a year.

Mr Goh visits the garden twice a day, spending about two hours there each time. 'Gardening keeps boredom away,' he says.

Another enthusiast is housewife Tang Sian Keng, 66. She, too, goes to the garden twice a day, to tend her aloe vera plants, pandan leaves, beans and herbs.

When her two grandchildren visit her, Madam Tang goes to her garden to pluck some beans to cook for them. She says gardening doesn't tire her out, but 'is very fun'.

Ms Terh plans to open up membership to the garden next year so more residents can join them in community gardening.

'Punggol is a former kampung and doing this brings back that kampung spirit,' she says.

As for the sunflowers, she grew them when the garden first started, but is now taking a break to let other plants have their time in the sun.

Straits Times 2 Nov 07
Green Thumbs Up
Neighbourly love is growing as residents plant vegetables and flowers together under the Community In Bloom scheme
By Tay Suan Chiang

IT STARTED out two years ago as a modest plan to help Singaporeans get in touch with their roots - plant roots, that is. The Community In Bloom (CIB) programme aimed to start 50 gardens a year. But it has already proved a blooming success - 240 have sprung up, and the number is still growing.

The programme, initiated by the National Parks Board (NParks), has resulted in gardens of fruit and vegetables sprouting across Singapore, run by residents in public and private housing estates and organisations and schools.

It aims to promote a gardening culture by encouraging and aiding gardening efforts by the community.

NParks provides guidance and advice to these gardening groups, such as on location of the garden and types of plants to grow.

Public housing estates, in particular, are where the plan is bearing fruit, not just in terms of providing welcome greenery, but in neighbourly bonding, too. There are about 115 such gardens in public housing estates alone.

One example of this heartland 'common ground' is Pride In Bloom, a community garden at Block 135 Serangoon North Avenue 2, which was opened a year ago.

Every Saturday night a group of seven residents from Serangoon North Avenue 2 get together in the middle of their housing estate for some bonding - not over drinks, but by getting sweaty and their fingers dirty.

During the week, most of them are busy working adults. But come Saturday, they are a green team, pruning plants, digging the soil and transplanting and harvesting vegetables.

The 300 sq m garden was started by Mr Wilson Wong, a post-graduate research student at the National University of Singapore.

'This is a chance for flat dwellers to do outdoor gardening on the ground,' says Mr Wong, 28. The gardening enthusiast is also the founder of Green Culture Singapore, a local website for plant lovers.

Group members plant vegetables such as Chinese mustard, Chinese cabbage, kangkong and French beans. They also plant a variety of herbs, spices and ornamental plants. The seeds and plants are paid for by the members.

Mr Wong found the plot of land, which was empty at the time, and approached his residents' committee (RC) and town council to turn it into a garden. Under the CIB scheme, town councils, together with NParks and the Housing Board, provide guidelines and advice to the RCs.

The HDB also helps identify plots of land that could be used as community gardens, while the RCs initiate the projects and are responsible for maintenance of the gardens.

Down at his very own 'grassroots' level, Mr Wong has worked out a roster for Pride In Bloom. One member, who is a housewife, does the morning watering, while another group does the evening watering when they return from work. On Saturday nights, from 6 to 10pm, the members work on the garden together.

The fruits of their labour are shared among members. Mr Wong says some are also given to the town council cleaners as well as the residents.

Anyone can visit the garden at all hours as it has no fence. Mr Wong admits there have been cases of theft and vandalism, but still he isn't keen on fencing the garden. 'I want to keep it open, so everyone can learn about plants and appreciate the garden,' he says. He believes sharing the harvest with residents will also help to deter some theft.

The garden is a hit with non-gardening residents. Mr Wong says many sometimes come in to take pictures as well as approach him for help with their plants.

The garden has also brought the residents closer to one another. Gardening member Choong Lan Fong, 44, says she wouldn't have known her neighbours if not for the garden.

The bank manager grew up on Pulau Tekong and grew vegetables as a child. 'We meet and talk not just about gardening, but also about our children,' she says.

NParks' assistant director of streetscape projects Ng Cheow Kheng is encouraged by the response of residents like those of Serangoon North to the programme.

He says the initial target was to have 50 community gardens each year, but that has been exceeded. And he hopes more Singaporeans will get into the act, by approaching their RCs.

'We want to get Singaporeans engaged to learn how plants can relate to their lives,' he says.

He adds that as most Singaporeans live in high-rise flats which afford little space for growing plants, the CIB programme allows them to do more gardening.

'It also brings neighbours of different races together, fostering the neighbourly spirit,' he says.

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