Conversations in a Community Garden

For the average city dweller like me who lives in a flat surrounded by other blocks of flats, community gardens are like manna from heaven. Patches of green bigger than the usual plots for trees that line the average road are a welcome respite from concrete pavements and fenced-up basketball courts.

We recently started another garden in our estate and, this time, I’ve involved myself.

The existing one is full and blooming and not an inch of space remains to plant anything more. Kudos to the residents committee (RC) for securing another four small plots to keep things going.

This new garden started out with may be three things: two small papaya plants and what looks to be a chilli plant, which doesn’t seem to be doing very well. Unfortunately, few people have stepped forward to have a go at this new garden. I’m all for helping to dig and weed, but, frankly, I’m no Ivy Singh. So, it was fortuitous that I met Uncle Koh – who has raised his hand to lead the gardening – at an RC event, which I never bothered to attend in the past.

Uncle Koh was a farmer back in the day in Hougang; but not only and always a farmer. If I have the chronology right, the farming bit happened a little later in life for him.

Speaking in a mixture of English, Mandarin and Hokkien, Uncle Koh, his wife Auntie Koh, and I have had, to date, a couple of sound introductory conversations. I’ve even been round to their ground-floor flat, had a cuppa and slice of cake with them, and been introduced to their dog, Mah Nee (I don’t know for sure how it’s spelled, but that’s how it’s pronounced). I reckon they named her “Mah Nee” because her licence number won Auntie Koh a bit of cash in the local lottery 4D draw.

As is the case with many retirees, if a younger person shows a modicum of interest in their lives, they will take it as permission to tell you stories. For now, I know how Uncle and Auntie Koh met and how he “tackled” her; I know that Uncle Koh used to work on a ship (which is why his command of English is seriously not at all shoddy); and that they used to grow grapes in their backyard. Grapes in Singapore, in a housing estate right smack in the city centre. I ask you.

I’m holding on to these stories because they remind me that this what it means to be neighbourly.

The garden, in some sense, will take care of itself. I’ve since contributed my ginger bulb, periwinkle and poinsettia. Staring at them every day won’t make them grow any faster. We’ll just have to do the necessaries to keep them alive and nourished, and then wait and see.

Ginger’s found a new home!
(Photo: Carolyn Oei)

Uncle Koh transplanting my surprisingly hardy periwinkle.
(Photo: Carolyn Oei)











This poinsettia has outlived its typical shelf-life. Flowers at Christmas would confirm it as immortal!
(Photo: Carolyn Oei)

I have to admit that it has taken me a few years (a lifetime?) to get my head around this – this concept of not rushing things. We live our modern lives all too perfunctorily and absent-mindedly, yet demand so much.

Click here now, no down-time, disposable, instant, just add water.

Where did we get off thinking that we could have things happen at the touch of a button?

A firm but gentle reminder to me that things do not happen at a touch of a button was when I tried to cuddle a cat. Not that it wasn’t partial to cuddling; it just didn’t appreciate being cuddled by someone it wasn’t familiar with. This was a friend’s cat and when it wriggled out of my stifling embrace, I stupidly asked, “He doesn’t like being cuddled?” To which my friend snorted, “He has to get to know you!”

Ah, yes. I felt ridiculous.

So, I’m not going to rush things with the community garden. More neighbours will join in, I hope. My ginger plant will be ready to ┬áharvest at some point, I hope. And the poinsettia might flower in time for Christmas, I hope.

In the meantime, there are weeds to be pulled, new seedlings to be planted and certainly more tea and cake to be had with Uncle Koh, Auntie Koh and Mah Nee.