The Star Malaysia - Star2
Green space for rent
Avid gardeners with limited space in their homes are renting plots of land in urban farms and community gardens to cultivate herbs and vegetables.
MORE and more Singaporeans are becoming interested in gardening, but with so many living in apartments and flats that might not have enough space or sunlight, or with community gardens already full, it can be difficult to exercise green thumbs.
Luckily, there’s now a new way for people to garden: they can rent a piece of land to grow their own greens.
Several private and government organisations in the island state are offering plots of land for lease to avid gardeners. Under a new scheme launched by the country’s National Parks Board, 80 plots were offered for rent by individuals on three-year leases. It costs S$57 (RM177) to rent a 2.5sq m plot for a year; at that low price, it’s no surprise that all the units were snapped up and there is a waiting list.
Among the private organisations, there is D’Kranji Farm Resort, which usually offers farm staycations; it is now also leasing out part of its land to hobbyist gardeners and commercial operators who supply greens to supermarkets.
Twenty-one of its 22 plots have been taken up under one- to 10-year leases. Each plot ranges from 700sq m to 10,000sq m, with a fee of between S$500 and S$10,000 (RM1,500 and RM31,000) a month.
Business development manager Nicholas Lai, 27, says the amateur farmers who bought their plots tend to be health-conscious people.
“They want to know where their food comes from and that it is 100% chemicalfree,” he says.
Pocket Greens, an urban farm in Bukit Panjang, has been renting out racks for people to grow microgreens under its rental rack adoption programme since 2014. Microgreens are tiny young greens such as broccoli and kale which are harvested when they are still juvenile plants.
Each rack comes with four levels, and each level can hold five trays. About 75% of its 70 racks have been taken up.
Pocket Greens co-founder Eng Ting Ting, who is in her late 40s, says that while some of her tenants are hobbyist gardeners, most are parents who want their children to learn to grow edibles and not to take their food for granted. They also take their kids to the site to grow vegetables as a family activity.
Some community gardens also rent out some plots for a fee.
One of them is Eng Kong Cheng Soon community garden near Toh Tuck Road. At 2,500sq m, it is the largest of its kind on a private estate. All 90 plots there, each about 3m by 2m, have been taken up. Gardeners, mostly residents living in the private estates, condominiums and Singapore Housing Board blocks nearby, pay about S$50 (RM155) a year for each plot.
A herb garden of her own
Retiree Kathy Chua, 65, relies on her herb garden to manage all kinds of ailments.
When she has a toothache, she pops the blooms and leaves of the paniculate spot flower plant into her mouth for temporary pain relief. The herb produces a numbing and tingling sensation.
She also makes tea out of the leaves of the moringa plant and cat’s whiskers plant to try to lower her high blood pressure and high cholesterol level respectively.
Instead of sunblock, she applies the inner leaf gel from her aloe vera plant on her skin.
Chua’s herb garden grows on a plot of land she rented from D’Kranji Farm Resort in Lim Chu Kang. For the past nine years, she has been sharing the 700sq m space with her two brothers, both in their 50s. The older one is retired while the younger one is working as a factory supervisor.
The brothers grow adenium, or “fu gui hua” in Chinese, which is appreciated for its colourful flowers and unusual thick stems.
Chua’s knowledge of herbs comes from her days growing up in a kampung and, in recent years, from other hobbyist farmers and visitors at D’Kranji.
She lives in an executive Housing Board flat in Woodlands with her husband and daughter, but the space outside her flat was not enough to support her gardening enthusiasm. There is a community garden near her home, but she did not manage to get a plot there.
The herbs she grows at D’Kranji include common ones such as lemongrass, mint, and basil, as well as rarer ones such as lemon myrtle and lemon verbena, which are more commonly found in cooler climates.
She and her siblings sell some of their plants, but the income is not enough to cover the S$1,500 (RM4,600) monthly rent. It is largely paid for by her factory supervisor brother.
She has eight other siblings, but like her immediate family, they are not involved in her garden.
In the past few years, she has started to share her knowledge with schoolchildren and companies. The resort pays her to conduct educational tours.
She and her retiree brother are at their plot almost every day for four to six hours, resting occasionally under a metal and wood kiosk that they constructed to shelter them from the elements.
She says: “If I don’t go there, I feel like something is missing from my life. I worry about how my plants are doing.”
Orchid fan takes on veggies
Joseph Yeo’s orchid obsession is such that his condominium has more than 300 pots of the plant on his balcony and the corridor outside. If space was not an issue, he would have grown much more.
Then last year, the 62-year-old avid gardener passed by a new community garden near his home and saw a banner that said it was renting out plots at only S$50 (RM155) a year. He balloted for a spot immediately and got one.
Unfortunately, he soon learnt that the rules at Eng Kong Cheng Soon garden do not allow orchids to be grown, only fruit and vegetables.
Since Yeo just loves gardening in general, he was happy to abide by the rules.
On his plot, he grows leafy vegetables and herbs commonly used in his family’s meals. They include lettuce, chye sim, xiao bai cai, and kai lan as well as herbs such as Thai basil and mint.
He lives with his wife in a condominium about an eight-minute walk from the garden.
He is semi-retired and works part-time in the petrochemical industry.
Such is his enthusiasm for gardens that he volunteers at Gardens by the Bay, the 101ha nature park sited on reclaimed land, where he helps with weeding, pruning, and planting.
He visits his plot at Eng Kong Cheng Soon almost every day for at least an hour each time to water the plants.
On weekends, he can spend up to five hours there, potting, replanting, and preparing the beds. His wife joins him sometimes.
Having a plot in the community garden also allows him to interact with other gardeners – all the gardeners share their harvests with one another.
When some of them are busy, he helps to “babysit” their plots.
He says: “It’s about reviving the kampung spirit and learning to care, share, and live with one another.”