Urban Jungle Folks is a group of urban dwellers who get together every Sunday to grow food using permaculture methods on a sizeable patch at Dempsey Hill in Singapore. Led by Michelle Tan, this all started when she observed that there was a disused plot of land beside the restaurant she frequented, and got the okay from management to plant edibles there.
Now, after 9 months of hard toil, they have an edible garden with herbs, vegetables and fruit plants including tomato, chilli, Brazillian spinach, mugwort, pumpkin, moringa, rosemary, pandan, torch ginger, turmeric, curry, ulam rajah, banana, mulberry, dragon fruit, papaya among many others. Also there are beneficial flowers such as marigolds, Brazilian button, snakeweed, and Spanish needles.
The group only tends to the plants on Sundays, with a bit of assistance from the restaurant when it comes to watering on some days. There is an emphasis on native plants and plants that suit our climate because these are the ones which will thrive and require less input.
Here’s Michelle of Urban Jungle Folks, who tells us a little about the group, what they are hoping to achieve and their task of the day.
Hidden away at Sungei Tengah in Singapore is a serene air plant haven, aptly titled ‘Airvatar’, managed by Tillandsia enthusiast Daniel Goh. A senior financial consultant by day, Daniel makes time to tend to his plant collection daily, and regularly runs workshops to spread his joy for air plants, sharing knowledge while highlighting its aesthetic qualities.
Daniel’s air plants are neatly laid out and well presented. There is a lot to take in, with hundreds of plants on display yet it feels moderately minimalist. At Airvatar, Daniel showcases his plants, a collection amassed from places like Pick a Plant and other private air plant collectors in Singapore. Here, he also runs workshops and uses it as a space for visitors to experience the beauty of Tillandsia, inspiring them with the possibilities of decorating their homes with air plants.
I sat down with him to find out about his passion for air plants.
When did you begin taking an interest in gardening?
I was as young as 10 years old. In school, they used to get us to grow beans into bean sprouts. From then onwards I liked growing plants. But if you ask about when I started liking air plants, it was 6 to 7 years ago, when I got my first air plant. I thought it was very intriguing because it is a plant that doesn’t need soil to grow, and then I started my air plant collection.
What do you find intriguing about air plants?
It is an amazing plant to have because you can hang it by the window, or glue it onto a rock. But what really got me interested was as I started my collection, I realised that every plant is different. When you talk about species alone, there are around 3500 species of air plants. When you look at the varieties — the shapes, the sizes, the colours, the leaf structure, textures, they are all different. Singularly as a plant itself, it is very sculptural. When you put two separate plants side by side, they each look so different. That to me is like an art piece by itself. When you hang it up, it looks like a floating sculpture to me. That’s how it started for me, I was really, really amazed by air plants.
Subsequently I decided that I wanted to do more with just growing or collecting air plants, and that’s when I started designing. I used branches, rocks, materials that you can find from gardens or aquarium shops, and put them together and made art pieces with it. From then onwards, I called myself an air plant artisan and then I started doing this to share with people that air plants are not just a plant in itself, but it has a lot more dimension and aesthetic value. So it is no longer just growing plants but appreciating the aesthetics of the plant itself.
From now till 29 March, you can view cherry blossoms in Singapore at Gardens by the Bay. The Sakura Matsuri is back with 500 stunning cherry and peach blossom trees in over 20 varieties. Here is a video postcard from me, which gives you a taste of what you can expect.
This year I had planned to visit Japan to experience my first autumn and cherry blossom festival, but with the pandemic, this will have to wait. The next best thing is to see the plants at the Sakura Matsuri.
I love these miniature Gassho-style farmhouses with the thatched roofs. These traditional roofs are a more sustainable option and offer good insulation against heat and cold.
When shopping for a novice or experienced gardener, there is no lack of gift options in Singapore. Whether it’s for Christmas or any other occasion, here are some great gift ideas for gardeners.
1. Green Spade Xmas Bundle Green Spade has put together a special package for the festive season. Their Xmas Bundle consists of a 20 litre bag of Veggies Mix for growing vegetables, Nutri Yield fertiliser, Bio Protect organic fungicide, and Bug Shield, an organic pesticide. Get it for $38 at www.greenspade.sg.
2. Basic Starter Kit A wonderful gift for someone sinking their toes into edible growing, this gardening starter kit from Crops & Co. comes with a SeedCell which contains seeds, 250g of potting soil, a paper pot plus growing guide. Priced at $12.80, this starter kit is available at http://www.cropsandco.com
3. Felco secateurs This one’s for serious gardeners. Felco is known for its high quality tools and these secateurs are built to last, with parts that can be replaced for a lifetime of service. Priced from $109.90, find them at www.monotaro.sg.
4.Compot If you only generate a small amount of kitchen waste and wish to cycle nutrients back into the garden, the Compot is an ideal composting solution. Bury it in the soil, put anything biodegradable in it, cover it with the lid provided. Each pot has a 10 litre capacity. Get yours at $30 from Plant Visionz at https://eshop.plantvisionz.com.