75-year-old man ordered to clear secret garden in Choa Chu Kang forest

The garden, located in a Choa Chu Kang forest, has grown to the size of a three-room flat.
PHOTO: Shin Min Daily News

For the past 10 years, it has been his secret hideaway, an oasis away from Singapore's urban sprawl.

What began as a small seating area tucked away in a forest in Choa Chu Kang soon became a gardening haven the size of a three-room flat.

But the retiree, 75, who wanted to be known only as Mr Goh, must now clear the site and vacate it by April 9, as required by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) after its officers inspected it on March 19.

This was after a hiker stumbled on Mr Goh's mini-farm and alerted the SLA.

An SLA spokesman told The New Paper yesterday: "We have placed an advisory at the site requiring all items to be removed by April 9. Such cultivation constitutes a trespass offence under the State Lands Encroachments Act."

The spokesman added that the SLA has been in contact with Mr Goh and will clear any remaining materials found on the site after April 9.

Dream

Mr Goh, who declined to reveal his former occupation, told TNP that he had always been an avid gardener and his retirement dream was to set up a small space for gardening.

"I visit the garden almost every day, especially in the morning after I take my grandson to school. My wife joins me on the weekends. It is a quick bike ride and I am there in 30 minutes," he said in Mandarin.

The secluded spot is about 2.5km from the main road and about 5km from his flat in Choa Chu Kang, he added.

"I have no place to do gardening at home, so I built a small garden and a makeshift shelter years ago. I have grown bananas, mangoes, papayas and even some herbs," he said.

"I would rather have this hobby than sit in a coffee shop all day doing nothing."

Mr Goh goes there almost daily and his wife joins him on the weekends. PHOTO: Shin Min Daily News

Mr Goh said the shelter that he built using four sturdy poles and a tarpaulin with a canvas sheet provided good cover during thunderstorms.

"When it rains, I don't cycle back home. I just wait under the shelter because it is very comfortable," he added.

Mr Goh's daughter, Ms Jeslyn Goh, 32, who runs a home-based business, said she installed a tracking application on her father's smartphone in case he gets lost in the forest.

"Sometimes I get worried because he will be caught up in gardening for hours. But I know how happy this makes him," she said. "In fact, he loves to bring home fruits and vegetables for all of us."

Asked how she feels about her father having to vacate the area, Ms Goh said: "I understand where SLA is coming from. After all, he is using state land.

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"But I also feel sad because he told me this is the retirement life he has always wanted and he doesn't know what to do after this. It breaks my heart to see him upset."

She said her father had applied for an allotment garden plot under the National Parks Board's Allotment Gardening Scheme last year but was put on the wait list.

"I hope we can find a way for my dad to continue his gardening hobby since it makes him so happy. I think it also keeps him active and healthy."

Mr Goh, who hopes to find a way to continue his hobby, said proudly that some of his crops, such as bananas, are popular with hikers and wild boars.

"I have offered fruits to passing hikers before. I used to grow potatoes, but they kept getting eaten by wild boars so I stopped," he added.

Members of the Singapore Hikers Facebook group said they have seen small shelters and gardens similar to Mr Goh's while trekking in the forest.

Housewife Grace Chai, 45, who hikes at least twice a week, said: "Though I have never seen such shelters on my hikes before, they are probably out there."

She added that she sympathises with Mr Goh for having to give up the garden that he had cultivated for 10 years.

While disappointed, Mr Goh said he understands that he needs to follow the rules and has been clearing his things.

"I am sad, but I have no choice. I will try to ask (SLA) for an extension because I just planted seeds for new herbs and want them to grow before I leave the place," he added.

This article was first published in The New PaperPermission required for reproduction.