Singapore

Community gardens cause turf wars between residents

Gardeners complain of stolen fruit, plants trampled; MPs want to reverse the situation

Community gardens are meant to unite neighbours over their shared love for greening, but some have ended up being the subject of turf wars instead.

Alongside plants and flowers, locks have become a feature at many of them.

This is because some gardeners want to fend off others who pick the fruits of their labour – to the extent of locking up what are meant to be public plots and restricting access.

This propels some frustrated residents to look for alternative plots of land around the estate, planting pots of curry leaves and small banana trees where they can.

Such issues have emerged in the wake of a Straits Times article on Wednesday about a tussle between a veteran gardener and his residents’ committee (RC) in Chua Chu Kang GRC.

The RC had asked Mr Tan Thean Teng, 73, to stop dispensing medical advice alongside his herbs, as well as to involve more immediate neighbours in gardening. Mr Tan declined to stick to the conditions and moved to a commerical farm in Kranji.

Some now question if the gardens have lived up to their goal of community bonding. There are close to 1,000 community gardens here, started by the National Parks Board (NParks) through the Community in Bloom movement.

While it provides horticultural and technical advice, town councils or RCs are free to develop their own guidelines on how the gardens should be run.

And so some have allowed community gardens to be locked by a handful of gardeners. And perhaps understandably so, with many gardeners telling The Straits Times they pump in as much as $6,000 a year of their own money to keep their gardens flourishing, mainly out of pride and ownership.

Madam Kamisah Atah, 60, who manages the rooftop garden at Block 372A Jurong East Avenue started locking it after people began picking off fruits. Now, residents are allowed inside only when the housewife is present.

She said: “Gardening is a very tedious job and it’s very demoralising when we see that people have taken our fruits and damage our plants in the process.”

Some MPs are working to reverse such actions, saying it is necessary to open up the gardens to all for them to be a true community space.

In Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo’s ward, a garden at Block 842G Tampines Street 82 is open 24 hours a day and there have been no major complaints, he said.

He is working on getting other gardeners to open up their gardens to residents.

“If we have fences, it should be low ones to keep out animals from damaging the plants, not people,” he said.

Most MPs The Straits Times spoke to sai d they host regular “harvest days”, where gardeners open the gardens up to residents to pick fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Some even make a party out of it, with neighbours bringing other food to accompany the fresh greens.

Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng encourages neighbourly interaction by giving out food vouchers to those in rental blocks if they do community work, like helping out at the garden.

Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Zainal Sapari said he only has one ‘rule’ when community gardens are set up: “The gardeners must allow the kindergarten kids to go in, so that the garden can become an outdoor learning classroom.”

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