Cultivating herbs & bonds
A herb garden tended by residents has beautified a HDB estate and led to the flowering of friendships.
BY: Tan Boon Leng
Rows of potted plants line the strip of concrete walkway. A grille metal gate opens into an avenue of verdant greenery. Plants of every shape and size, shrubs giving off faint herbal scents and even a towering papaya tree greet you as you walk into the enclosed area measuring about 100 ft by 20 ft. This is not a plant nursery, but a herb garden located right smack in the concrete jungle of a HDB estate.
Welcome to the Kebun Baru Palm View Senior Citizens’ Herb Garden located on the grass patch dividing Blocks 233 and 234, Ang Mo Kio Ave 3. Here, residents have cultivated more than 100 varieties of herbs and fruits, such as passion fruit, mulberry, grape, esoteric varieties of herbs and even a rose shrub!
The community garden was a hive of activity when Agelessonline visited on a hot, sticky Sunday afternoon. Close to 10 residents were seated on the recycled park benches, chatting and sipping tea brewed from herbs cultivated in the garden. Two young children were busy playing computer games on their handhelds. A gentleman with an unruly mop of white hair was plucking leaves from a plant … and eating them. That man was Lim Choh Boh, who sowed, pardon the pun, the seed, for the community garden.
Seventy-year-old Lim started the “garden” with some potted herbal plants in 2000 to pursue his lifelong interest in gardening. His hobby soon aroused the curiosity and interest of other residents, and several of them came forward to join him in tending to and “growing” the patch. As the number of residents involved in maintaining the garden grew, the Kebun Baru Palm View Residents’ Committee (RC) decided to form an official interest group. The community garden was unveiled in June 2011 by Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC, Inderjit Singh.
‘Community In Bloom’
The Kebun Baru Palm View Senior Citizens’ Herb Garden is one of over 480 community gardens under the National Parks Board’s (NParks) ‘Community In Bloom’ (CIB) programme. The CIB programme aims to promote a gardening culture among residents, students and workers. NParks provides guidance and advice to community groups under the CIB initiative, and links them up with agencies to facilitate the setting up of the community gardens. The Kebun Baru herb garden won the CIB’s Gold Award in the Public Housing Estates Category for 2012.
As a CIB garden, the herb garden has benefitted from the support of various agencies. The Ang Mo Kio Town Council contributed recycled park benches and erected the metal fencing enclosing the garden. The RC got into the act by installing water and power points to facilitate the upkeep and maintenance of the garden.
The residents are fully invested in the herb garden. In keeping with the DIY ethos of the residents, not a single cent is spent on upkeeping the garden.
A volunteer used concrete tiles provided by the town council to design paved tracks for residents to navigate. The same volunteer also used drink cans to form intricate designs to enclose and demarcate different species of herbs as well as to beautify the surroundings. The residents even processed discarded orange peel from a nearby fruit stall into organic fertiliser!
Communal point for residents
Besides Lim who is at the garden every morning, there are another four to five regular residents who, come rain or shine, will drop by every day to do weeding, sweeping and cleaning up the garden, or even brewing herbal tea! More than just a platform for residents to pursue their interests in gardening, the herb garden has also become a communal point for residents and their family members to gather, build friendships and strengthen ties over a kettle of piping hot herbal tea. For example, Lim’s daughter Yvonne and her uncle Garick Tan are administrators of a Facebook page dedicated to showcasing photos of the herb garden. Lim’s wife also joins him in his daily ministrations at the garden.
Lim Bee Ling (not related to Lim Choh Boh), 57, who lives at Blk 112, Ang Mo Kio Ave 4, turns up at the garden every day to remove weeds and ‘catch up’ with the other residents. She has been volunteering at the garden for more than 10 years.
“I enjoy coming to the garden because seeing the plants make me feel so happy. I have also made a lot of friends ever since I started helping out at the garden,” she said.
David Lee, chairman of the Kebun Baru Palm View RC, said: “The RC is happy to support the residents’ efforts in cultivating and growing the herb garden. Most of the volunteers here are seniors, but the garden has also attracted younger residents, and helped to promote intergenerational bonding and foster stronger ties between residents.”
Ng Cheow Kheng, deputy director, Horticulture and Community Gardening, NParks, added: “Community gardeners are taking greater ownership of their gardens and turning them into a kind of self-help community network. The Kebun Baru Palm View Senior Citizens’ herb garden was started as a result of one person’s passion, and it now attracts residents of all ages to tend to its plants. In realising our ‘City in a Garden’ vision, this is what we want to see – individuals and groups taking the initiative to make their surroundings liveable and endearing.”
The Kebun Baru Palm View Senior Citizens’ herb garden is open 9am to 11am from Monday to Friday to visitors. Visit its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/KBPVHerbsGarden233.
Interested in setting up your own community garden?
Inspired by Lim Choh Boh and his fellow residents and want to set up your own community garden? You can now do so under the ‘Community In Bloom’ initiative under NParks. Visit www.nparks.gov.sg/cib to learn how!