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Garden Stories: Alexius Yeo of Project 33

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It was a real treat to pop by Alexius Yeo’s place. The permaculture educator and practitioner turned his backyard into a productive vegetable urban farm and started a tightly knit gardening community called Project 33, named such because of his house number, and also it began as an initiative to give 33% of their produce to foster community spirit.

A while ago, he had a pair of hens but they would dig up his garden and undo the hard work he had accomplished. I took in his hens, but while I loved having them, they didn’t get along with my existing flock, and I had to return them to him after AVA came knocking when a neighbour complained about too much noise in the morning. I learnt later that they had found a veteran chicken enthusiast to care for them.

I met Alexius when he was still working at Edible Garden City, but only got to know him better after he had left his chickens in my care. These days, he teaches nature-based educational programmes to schools. Incidentally, our mothers are good friends and ex-colleagues, and I found out after overhearing my mother’s conversation with his mother about our backyards turning into farms.

Alexius is one of a growing number of people moving towards an urban homestead lifestyle in Singapore. Other than the monthly Project 33 meetings at his home, which centres around a potluck and gardening workshop and/or activity, he teaches gardening classes like organic pest management, creating a herb garden, and building soil. His well landscaped backyard farm includes a wide variety of herbs and Asian vegetables, some fruit trees – even a Chinese date plant, and ornamental plants. In addition, he has a lovely pond with fish and a free range tortoise, a really nice green space to relax.

Be sure to pay him a visit sometime!

Garden Stories: Waiwai Hove, Botanical Illustrator Extraordinaire

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I recently got to know of Waiwai Hove, a highly talented and botanical illustrator, to say the very least. We exchanged emails over a duration of two months before we got to meet, and the newly minted UNESCO World Heritage Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG) provided the perfect backdrop to catch up. Waiwai works from there on certain days, as she has been commissioned to paint 30 of their heritage trees, which you will read more about in the interview. Waiwai is also the illustrator of SBG’s 2015 calendar,  which sold out – a first time occurrence, her colleague told me.

I had a delightful time with her, we strolled through part of the gardens as we conversed on various topics,  such as her work with SBG, intricacies of botanical illustration, her twin boys, and plants – naturally! We encountered a few animals, which she was quick to spot, and I had trouble detecting even when she had pointed at them. She has such a keen eye for details, but I suppose you would say that it’s expected given her profession!

We also dropped by the “Orchids of Singapore Botanic Gardens and Their Heritage” exhibition, where I got to view Aranda Lee Kwan Yew, before sitting down for a drink and a good chat. Waiwai showed me her portfolio, which I found absolutely incredible. Her work is outstanding – while it is beautiful, it is also scientifically accurate, and it’s no wonder that she obtained the highest marks ever scored in the Society of Botanical Artists diploma course she completed. My time with this gentle woman passed quickly, and soon it was time to pick up her twins from school, but we agreed that we should catch up again soon, and hopefully view her home studio and plants.

I hope you enjoy this interview, it’s been awhile!

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Image courtesy of Waiwai Hove

Garden Stories: Pavilion Edible Garden

PEGMy friend, Pui Cuifen, has been working on Pavilion Edible Garden in her neighbourhood for over a year now. It’s a community garden which she had initiated in 2013, and it has really taken shape since, with active participation from neighbours, and voluntary help from permaculture designer, Debbie Han, and landscaping organisation, The Nature Company.

Having visited their community garden blog on occasion, and seeing updates from Cuifen’s Facebook page, I could tell it was a real labour of love and an inclusive space for residents and members of the public. Cuifen and neighbours, Dennis and Lydia kindly gave me a tour of the community space, which is nestled in a private estate in Bukit Batok. Mr Teo (the gentleman on the right), was diligently tending to plants all afternoon and is an active contributor to the community garden.

I’m a huge supporter of community gardens not just because I love gardening, but I feel that creating one is a great step towards building resilience in the neighbourhood. While Pavilion Edible Garden is still relatively young, they are off to a great start. They have a wonderful set up and variety of plants, which include fruits, vegetables and butterfly attracting plants, and they are quickly gaining traction with the community, with more neighbours taking an interest in the garden.

Featuring permaculture principles, the garden has a banana circle, herb spiral, and will soon have a 3 sisters vegetable bed. It also features wicking beds, and community members create their own compost where possible, although they started off with compost donated by The Nature Company. There is a diverse range of plants which include moringa, winter melon, collard greens, beans, yam, sweet potatoes, okra, chilli, bananas, papayas, and lots of herbs.

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Garden Stories: Hedrick Kwan of Plant Visionz

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Hedrick Kwan has a bold, charismatic and vivacious personality, which also translates to his gardening and landscaping style, and contemporary approach to creating food pairings. He runs Plant Visionz, a landscaping business specialising in edibles and orchids, and is a classically trained horticulturist.

Highly experienced, he takes a practical approach to landscaping projects but is also intuitive and open to try new, unexpected combinations, and he has a beautiful flagship project to show for it. Hedrick kindly gave me a tour around Portico, a restaurant off Alexandra Road, where he has grown a mix of edible plants for use by the establishment, such as Hyacinth Beans, Ceylon Spinach, Ulam Raja, Fennel, Sweet Potato Leaves, Limes, and mini Cucumbers.

He has also grown a wonderful medley of herbs, often together in containers with other plants, which is not only a clever space saving idea, but it also works in terms of companion planting, and looks great too. These herbs are used in cocktails also, basil flowers is one such example. Hedrick, who’s profession also includes being a Horticulture Culinarist – one who puts together food concepts and recipes using plants, also teaches cooking classes, and is a curious food forager, on the look out for edible plants off the sidewalks of Singapore.

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Garden Stories: Suekay of Urban Agriculture

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I enjoy my catch-ups with Suekay, sometimes I pop by her Bishan residence to talk about collaborations, where the garden offers a wonderful backdrop to our discussions. She lives with her in-laws, who have created a lush, pretty garden with the help of a gardener. It has quite a neat, unified, formal appearance, with mainly ornamental plants. There are plans to introduce edible plants in the near future, which is exciting to hear. As you’ll see, I couldn’t resist getting a little snap happy on the garden… It’s such a beautiful, relaxing space, I feel like I’m visiting a resort each time I go there.

I’ve known Suekay for a while now and I love her warm personality and down-to-earth approach to everything she does. She’s very driven with her online gardening supplies business, Urban Agriculture, which retails a range of gardening products including seeds, microgreen kits, fertiliser and soil enhancements. We have a working arrangement where I list seeds and worm tea on her website. On top of running Urban Agriculture, she looks after NONG (by Edible Garden City)’s retail operations.

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She made a transition from the financial sector to go full-time into promoting urban farming, a profession that she finds a lot more joy and meaning in.  Here she shares her motivation on making a career switch, and her journey so far. If you find Suekay familiar, you might have seen her in a previous post on her beekeeper colleague, Thomas Lim.