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Garden Stories: Kenneth Tham’s Corridor Display Garden

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Kenneth Tham’s zest for life is inspiring. Aside from running a hairdressing business, parenting teenagers, and caring for his dogs in partnership with his wife, he finds time to tend to an incredibly lush corridor garden, a plant conservatory at their hair salon, as well as raise funds to support the needy.

In late August, Kenneth and other cyclists will ride 1000km to raise awareness and donations to provide basic monthly necessities to 330 households. Plants are part of his efforts to gather contributions to his nominated charity – he sells Begonias and Episcias, and proceeds go to the beneficiaries of Sunlove Neighbourhood Links.

He has a great sense of aesthetics, visible from the highly complementary manner in which he presents his plants – colours, textures, shapes, and even the way the leaves sit – everything falls together nicely. As you can tell from the photos, he’s also an incredibly neat gardener.

During my visit, I noticed an Olive-backed Sunbird sitting on one of his trellises, and he pointed out that he had a family of Dwarf Pigeons living among the foliage. How delightful!

Image courtesy of Kenneth ThamImage courtesy of Kenneth Tham

Clearly an avid Begonia fan, Kenneth has several varieties on display on his corridor and also enclosures for some of his plants at the hair salon. Not all of the plants in the hair salon are for sale, especially not the rare ones. There’s even a sign indicating so, he must have had lots of enquiries.

Many are curious about where he lives, but in order to protect his privacy, I can only divulge that he lives in the north. I can however, share that his hair salon is located at Serangoon Avenue 2, his preferred location as a pick-up point for plant purchases.

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DSCF4883At his hair salon, he sells Begonias, Episcias, self-watering planters and accompanying sleeves that fit snugly. These sleeves are knitted by his mother, and they come in different sizes for differing purposes.

Begonias have been popping up on my radar for the last couple of years. I wasn’t very keen on them initially but I kept encountering Begonia enthusiasts, usually members of the Singapore Gardening Society. Early in the year, I attended an interesting talk organised by the society about how Gardens By the Bay staff travelled to Japan on a Begonia planthunting trip. I can now appreciate the allure of these plants.

In meeting Kenneth, my interest was further piqued, and I decided to take the plunge and purchase my first Begonia. He assured me that when anyone buys a plant from him, they are paying for a well presented plant, and pointed out how well-arranged the foliage is.

One plant of his which I found interesting is the Jewel Orchid, which looks like it has gold dust on the veins of its leaves. That one is not for sale, as it was a gift from a friend. I photographed it, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to capture its gold shimmer.

Please read on to find out more about Kenneth, and how you can contribute to his nominated cause!

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Garden Stories: James Ip and his balcony fern forest

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[photo courtesy of James Ip]

When I first began following James Ip on Instagram a few months back, I dreamed of seeing his balcony fern forest in person. I was amazed by his love of ferns, how he had dedicated his entire balcony to plants, and how beautifully put together his garden is. I paid a visit to his apartment in Kembangan, Singapore, to experience it for myself, it was a marvellous sight!

From his choice of plants and how he has exhibited them, it is immediately obvious that he has a keen eye for details and is a romantic at heart. The plant arrangements present lots of depth, visual texture, and demonstrates careful curation on his part. By staggering his collection of plants at various heights, he has managed to ensure that his balcony accommodates his numerous plants and their needs, as well as allow enough light to enter his home.

His two fish ponds form the backbone to his garden. With its arrival, James began adding plants, and it lends an adequate amount of humidity to his plants. Other than ferns, the garden also features begonias, ivy, dracaena, syngonium, bromeliads, umbrella papyrus, pink alpinia, among others.

His ferns require a bit of care, such as an afternoon misting on very hot, dry days. The water in his ponds experience a 30% per cent evaporation rate daily, which is as frequent as he needs to top it up.

James has done a remarkable job creating a zen balcony space. Read on to find out more about how it all came together!

JIP

[Images from James Ip’s Instagram account]

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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!

WWH

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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