Community Gardening in a Garden City

By Bhavani Prakash, a sustainability writer, speaker, trainer and consultant at ecowalkthetalk.

Singapore is renowned as a Garden City, with clean and green landscaped streets and parks.

Over the years, National Parks Board’s (Nparks) mission has evolved from realising a vision for a ‘Garden City’ to creating ‘A City in a Garden’ where the island’s seamless green infrastructure of parks and streetscapes play an essential part of Singaporeans’ lives, homes, workplaces and playgrounds.

This is why Nparks launched the Community In Bloom (CIB) program in 2005, to foster a gardening culture among the people in Singapore. This National Gardening Movement has been embraced in a massive scale with more than 400 community gardens sprouting around Singapore, including public and private housing estates, schools and organisations.

Community Gardening in Ivory Heights Condominium

Ivory Heights Condominium Community Gardening was started in 2007 by Richard Ashworth and a team of enthusiastic residents. It took about six months to a year for the garden to take shape.

The initial expenses were pooled in by the residents, with ongoing maintenance being provided by a small fund, which includes prize money from the Community in Bloom Award when Richard was crowned as a Community in Bloom (CIB) Ambassador in 2008.

According to Richard, the planning and design stage of the community garden is very important because unless you show results quickly, the residents are likely to lose interest. His team was able to involve residents to volunteer with the initial layout, preparation, and planting, with a choice of fast growing plants and flowers that imparted a ‘finished’ look in a fairly short period of time.

Several unique features in Ivory Heights garden

One is a large, common area with ornamental flowers and plants, beautifully landscaped and interspersed with Richard’s own metal sculptures made from scrap material from his factory. Several donations from residents dot the garden including old benches, tiles and decorative pots all tastefully added in. Maintenance is on a group-wide basis, with a few core team members pitching in more regularly than others, something that is often observed in community gardens.

The veggie garden has been divided into allotments, with residents getting one on a first-come-first-serve basis. However, if any allotment is being neglected, it is handed over to the next in line on the waiting list, after a grace period.

Certainly one key ingredient for a successful community garden is the energy and enthusiasm of a champion or a champion team that keeps the garden alive and running despite the challenges and hard work. The pride with which the residents show visitors around is testimony to their passion.

How to Start a Community Garden

1. Gather like-minded people who can form a core team of enthusiasts to coordinate, and carry through the effort of starting and maintaining a community garden.

2. Approach your Residents/Neighbourhood Committee or Management Council and get their approval and support for the community garden project, identifying a tentative site for the garden in the process.

3. Contact Nparks. A CIB member will assist you with the site plan, talks on how to design a site, general tips on gardening.

4. Make a field trip to other community gardens to get an idea of the various layouts as well as link up with other gardeners to understand their successes and challenges.

5. Submit a design plan after consulting residents, to Nparks who will provide feedback with suggestions. Plan the allocation of garden space – whether it is per family on allotment basis, or as a communal garden with allocation of duties.

6. Plan the resources and funds required for raised beds, soil, compost, extra labour over and above volunteer hours. Create excitement, and rope in residents to help with the initial set -up of the beds and planting of herbs, flowers and veggies.

7. Plan how ongoing maintenance will be managed, taking the help of the resident’s committee or management council to resolve challenges along the way.