As Singapore gets the gardening bug, NParks stresses importance of being considerate to neighbours
SINGAPORE: Exit the lift and turn the corner on the 10th floor of this Woodlands block and you will be greeted by a lush garden.
Several layers of potted plants line the corridor on both sides, covering the walls and parapets in shades of green.
Some of the plants sprout in sturdy stalks, stretching out of the corridor and into the sun. Others grow in wisps and hang to the floor.
It is actually more of a farm than a garden - there are basil plants, chilli, mint, crystal apple cucumber, curry leaves, cai xin and kai lan.
The pots are an eclectic mix too, with different shapes and sizes. Some are large and ornate, inscribed with Chinese characters and surrounded by Buddha heads and Roman-style sculptures.
This is all the work of 58-year-old resident Lim Chew Seng. He even has his own garden hose reel mounted outside of his unit, as well as grow lights hanging in the corridor. His doormat is a swathe of artificial carpet grass almost as wide as the corridor.
With the communal space outside his home filled with plants, it is reasonable to expect that Mr Lim is living in the corner unit.
But his flat is actually right beside the corner unit, meaning his neighbour has to traverse the more than 10m-long "farm" before getting home.
Mr Lim, a home renovation contractor who was previously a farmer on Pulau Ubin, believes the neighbour has never complained about his plants.
"That uncle is very good," said Mr Lim, who has lived in the block for 25 years. "When I moved in, he was already staying here."
MORE PEOPLE GARDENING AT HOME
Home gardening has grown in popularity over the years, especially during COVID-19.
Community groups on Facebook have received more membership requests since the pandemic started. One of the newest and most popular, Home Gardening Singapore, was created in April last year and already has more than 48,000 members.
The administrator of one home gardening group said more people are dabbling in gardening as a new hobby since working from home became the norm.
"Perhaps the experience of sold-out fresh produce shelves worried the communities here," said Ms Victoria Ho, 54, who manages the SG Farming in Apartments group.
Ms Ho, who also runs a gardening blog called SG Strawberries, said she now gets more than 200 membership requests a day for her group, up from about 50 a week before the pandemic.
More and younger people are also signing up for her gardening workshops, she said, adding that it is "no longer just a retiree hobby".
There has also been a push by the National Parks Board (NParks) to encourage the public to grow edible plants at home.
Under the Gardening With Edibles initiative launched last June, the agency has distributed free seed packets - including xiao bai cai, tomato and brinjal - to interested residents. It has also published gardening tips on its website.
The initiative is in line with Singapore’s strategy to strengthen its food resilience.
NParks said on its website that it has distributed close to 460,000 seed packs, noting the "overwhelming support" for the initiative.
WHEN PLANTS GET IN THE WAY
Home gardeners are, however, wary of neighbours' complaints.
According to a post in one of the gardening groups, a neighbour complained about the wind carrying soil from pots in the corridor into his home, giving him allergies.
The gardener in question said she has given up gardening with soil as she is "quite tired of dealing with such drama".
Another gardener talked about how she had to remove her plants and shelves in the corridor at the request of her town council.
A neighbour had told her she was worried that the plants would block the corridor if she ever needed to run from a fire.
Mr Lim, too, had received a letter from Sembawang Town Council last August about "extensive potted plants at both sides of (the) corridor".
The letter, seen by CNA and attached with photos of the area outside his unit, also talked about "creepers overgrown/extending to the eighth floor".
In ensuing conversations with the town council, Mr Lim was told to make the necessary adjustments.
He uprooted the money plant that dropped to the eighth floor and shifted some concrete blocks to create enough space along the corridor.
But he refused to budge on having plants on both sides of the corridor, telling the town council that he would clear an entire row of his plants on one side, only if it enforced the same rule at other units.
Mr Lim, who thinks the complaint originated from his ninth-floor neighbour, said the town council has since let him be.
"With the plants, I make the surroundings more green and distribute the produce to anyone who asks for it," he said.
"On one hand, the Government is encouraging people to plant veggies. On the other hand, the town councils are attending to these complaints and asking us not to plant so much."
Mr Ng Cheow Kheng, NParks' group director of horticulture and community gardening, said the agency has published a guide on growing edibles at home and along the corridors safely and responsibly.
"Important considerations" include using lightweight, non-bulky planters that can be secured safely to the parapet, and only gardening in corridors more than 1.2m in width that can accommodate planters without obstructing residents and essential services.
Guidelines by the Singapore Civil Defence Force state that corridors must have a minimum unobstructed width of 1.2m.
Gardeners should also regularly check their planters for stagnant water to prevent mosquito breeding, Mr Ng said.
"It is good for gardeners to engage their neighbours before embarking on gardening along corridors as these are communal spaces," he told CNA.
"We also encourage good gardening practices like keeping gardens neat and well maintained for all to enjoy, and sharing harvests whenever possible with immediate neighbours to build neighbourly bonds and camaraderie."
SOLVING NEIGHBOURLY ISSUES
Ms Ho of SG Farming in Apartments believes that most gardeners are "considerate people", and advised them to talk things out if there are disputes with neighbours.
"If the neighbours are reasonable and open to dialogue, we listen and work things out together. A simple willingness to listen sometimes solves the most difficult issues," she said.
"While I love plants and gardening, I am also mindful of other people's space or common ground. And because of this mindfulness, I think a lot of potential unhappiness is avoided."
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Mr Lim Biow Chuan, coordinating chairperson for the People's Action Party town councils, said residents who take issue with overplanting in the corridor should "politely explain" the need to keep the corridor clear from obstruction.
If this fails, Mr Lim, who is also Member of Parliament for Mountbatten SMC, said town councils will get community leaders to speak to the parties involved.
Further options include community mediation and finally the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal.
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"But disputes between neighbours are hard to resolve unless both parties are willing to compromise and have some give and take," he said. "After all the neighbours will meet each other every day."
Ultimately, Mr Lim said town councils try not to remove any plants unless they obstruct the corridor and cause safety issues.
The chairs of the Workers' Party town councils did not respond to requests for comment.
ENOUGH SPACE FOR MORE HOME GARDENERS?
Amid the nationwide push and interest in home gardening, Ms Ho feels there might not be enough outdoor space for everyone.
"But with cheaper technology such as grow lights, more growers have brought gardens indoors," she said.
"Racks turn into instant vertical grow beds with these lights. Any spare wall or corner is a potential new garden."
Mr Lim, the MP, said he would also encourage residents to consider working with residents' committees to set up a community garden.
NParks' Mr Ng said that there are more than 1,600 community gardens in Singapore under its Community in Bloom programme. They can be found in public and private housing estates, schools and premises of organisations.
NParks also started the Allotment Gardening Scheme in 2016 to make garden plots in parks and gardens islandwide available to the public. These have been "very popular" with residents, Mr Ng said.
"NParks plans to roll out more allotment gardens and continue to encourage the setting up of community gardens among gardening enthusiasts so that the community can come together to grow a wider variety of edibles, including herbs and spices," he added.
Finally, Mr Ng said NParks is exploring working with social enterprises in the community urban farming sector to set up plots in the heartlands for gardening edibles.
"The aim is to create more spaces for recreational gardening, engage the community through gardening-related activities, and provide micro-employment and volunteering opportunities to residents," he added.