He turned Tanglin hotel's rooftop into lush garden

He turned Tanglin hotel's rooftop into lush garden

On a roof four storeys above ground lies an Eden, unknown to many, close to the busy Orchard Road belt.

There, over 10 types of fruit trees grow, including guava, papaya, chiku and banana, nurtured from saplings by their keeper, Mr Lim Chin Tee.

Over the last four years, Mr Lim, or Uncle Lim as he is affectionately known, has transformed Hotel Jen Tanglin Singapore's rooftop, a usually forgotten spot of a building, into a sweet-smelling garden.

On most days, a peek into the 83.15 sq m space in the Cuscaden Road hotel - slightly smaller than an HDB four-room flat - would find the 76-year-old stooped over, tending to his oasis.

With his gardening shears and other tools in hand, he snips away wayward branches and tugs on stubborn weeds, or piles food waste like leftover rice, coffee grounds and egg shells into the soil to fertilise the plants.

He starts work at 9am and often stays till 3pm or 4pm. "It's not like I get overtime pay. Sometimes, it's because there is so much to do, and other times, I just forget the time because it is so relaxing," he said.

It would seem reasonable for a man his age to retire from work but Mr Lim said he does not want to be idle at home.

He read that it is important to stay active into old age to prevent chronic illnesses from developing. He feels that gardening helps to keep his body fit and his mind sharp.

His first brush with gardening came in 1954 when he was just 14 years old.

A friend gave his family two mango trees, which they planted at the front and back of their house. They flowered and bore fruit.

That was the start of a lifelong passion. After he left school, he began supervising gardeners at the former Mandai Orchid Gardens and working in the gardens of private homes.

He decided to get certification when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew declared in 1967 that he would transform Singapore into a garden city.

Mr Lim completed a six-month gardening course at the Singapore Botanic Gardens in 1970 and has earned his keep as a gardener since then, working at hotels on weekdays and private homes on weekends.

It was a former employer, the general manager of the predecessor of the Hotel Jen Tanglin Singapore, who got Mr Lim his current job.

Mr Juergen Doerr was moving to the Philippines and was worried that the man who tended his home garden would be out of a job.

So he tasked the head chef of what was then the Trader's Hotel to make sure that Mr Lim got a job in the hotel. In 2012, the role of a gardener was created for him.

"He is a good man. He pitied me because he was worried I wouldn't have a job," said Mr Lim.

Trader's Hotel was rebranded as Hotel Jen Tanglin Singapore in September 2014, and today, Mr Lim is the gardener of its Spice Garden.

He gets waste from the hotel's kitchens and turns it into compost for his garden, and offers the fruit he grows to hotel staff.

The garden is, today, open to the public and visitors are welcome to visit to see the fruits or have a chat with Mr Lim.

"When it comes to the Spice Garden at Hotel Jen Tanglin Singapore, there is no one more passionate or enthusiastic than Uncle Lim," said Ms Juliana Jauw, the hotel's assistant communications manager.

"Uncle Lim has inspired us with his knowledge and wisdom. We intend to use the Spice Garden as an educational hub to pass on his teachings to the next generation of staff, guests and members of the public."

When asked what he hopes to grow in future, Mr Lim said his biggest wish is to have a mango tree just like the one in his childhood home.

But he wavers.

"Okay, maybe a durian tree as well; it's hard to decide. I like them all," he said.

This article was first published on December 08, 2016.
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