Green plots for young and old

Green plots for young and old
The community garden at Ivory Heights has bonded neighbours, says resident Richard Ashworth (fifth from left).

Community gardeners here have long been enjoying the fruits of their labour and the green pockets they created in their backyards. Sustaining these gardens near their homes, offices and schools on their own time and expense, these amateur gardeners have impressed the professionals.

To recognise their efforts, the National Parks Board (NParks) has given 15 community gardens each a Diamond Award - a new prize at its biennial Community In Bloom Awards.

This title is given to communal patches that have won three consecutive Platinum Awards in the past. The Diamond Award is the highest accolade given to a garden after Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze. The awards will be presented during the Singapore Garden Festival 2014 at Gardens by the Bay next month.

The Diamond Award was created this year to mark the 10th year of the Community In Bloom programme, which has seen more than 700 gardens sprouting up around the island since its launch. These are created around Housing Board estates, where there are communal areas; areas outside private houses and condominiums; as well as within schools and offices.

The programme was started to promote a gardening culture, led by residents themselves.

A committee of 10, drawn from government agencies, professional bodies and interest groups, scored the gardens on their aesthetic appeal, community involvement, how well they sustained interest and environmental quality as well as biodiversity.

Chief judge Tan Jiew Hoe, president of the Singapore Gardening Society, says "the bar is raised higher and higher by the gardeners at each competition".

Mr Tan, who has judged the awards since they started in 2005, adds: "The standard of our community gardens never fails to delight me. Maintaining a good garden is not easy and the gardeners are getting better at improving their garden designs.

"Many are also creative in using the spaces, making them relaxing and enjoyable places to be in."

This year, 343 gardens took part in the competition, up from the 257 entries in the last edition. Most of them were in the public housing category - 174 entries - while 26 were from private housing estates. Another 86 came from educational institutions and 57 from organisations such as Al-Istiqamah Mosque and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

Besides the rankings, prizes were also given out to the Best Community Garden, Best New Community Garden and Environmental and Biodiversity Garden in each of the four categories.

A community garden usually takes root when gardening enthusiasts from the same neighbourhood meet NParks officials. Together, they decide on the kind of garden they would like, its size and design.

It takes a few months for a community garden to launch, from inception to construction. Costs are usually borne by the gardening groups, though some have funding from town councils.

Fruits and vegetables harvested are usually shared among the members. Some groups sell the produce at farmers' markets, with profits channelled back to the upkeep of the garden.

About 12 years ago, retiree Harry Lee decided to get a community garden going in his Mayfair Gardens condominium in Rifle Range Road. Then, the landscaping in the estate was minimal.

Today, the 65- year-old leads a group of about 10 regulars who plant everything from sugarcane to heliconias in the 11,000 sq ft plot. He says these communal parcels of land need time and effort, and people have to get their hands dirty - a requirement that turns many off.

The former managing director of an electrical and steel company says: "Some love to dig the soil and prune the plants, but there are those who don't want to touch the soil or are afraid of worms or snails. For those who enjoy gardening, however, it really helps you to relax and we love to share the edible plants we grow."

The programme also promotes neighbourliness. Mr Richard Ashworth, 60, who lives in Ivory Heights condominium in Jurong East, where he helps out at a 16,000 sq ft garden, says neighbours got to know one another better after meeting at the garden, even though they had lived in the same block for more than 20 years. The retired office manager says: "Gardening is a good hobby and promotes greenery. And it also brings people together."

This article was first published on July 05, 2014.
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