Singapore Polytechnic turns 60 years old in October this year and have launched a beautiful 120-page coffee table book featuring flora and fauna found on its premises, including their 11 community gardens, the book is titled “Campus in a Garden”. The school’s Board of Governors also planted 15 trees today to express their commitment to the environment, which is a really nice gesture.
I am grateful to have had the chance to visit a couple of these gardens in a tour led by staff member, Mr Ong Wooi-Hsen, a Senior Lecturer with the School of Communications, Arts & Social Sciences. Wooi-Hsen kindly spent part of his Saturday morning showing me around and let me interview him. Big thanks also to the communications department, who made all of this possible.
Me: Congratulations on Singapore Polytechnic (SP) turning 60 this year and the new book – Campus in a Garden, Wooi-Hsen! Thank you also, for taking the time to walk me through some of your community gardens. When did you and SP decide to start growing these gardens, and can you share with me the story behind these lovely green spaces?
Wooi-Hsen: It was my pleasure. The idea was mooted by me and fully supported by the then Green Committee and Estates Department in SP. Prior to this, I had been working on a community garden in the estate where I lived, but we ran into some obstacles and could not go forward. Soon after, the opportunity to start our first community garden in SP came up in 2008 and so I had ready plans for setting up a garden which we could now use here in SP.
The objectives of the gardens were to allow staff to have an office outlet for their gardening hobby. The decision to grow a mix of herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables was unanimous as it was complementary to another hobby interest of the staff which is good, healthy food. The gardens have been a resounding success. In fact, we received the NParks’ Community in Bloom Gold Award for the CASS (School of Communication, Arts and Social Sciences) Garden in 2010 and the Platinum for SP in 2012. The awards speak for themselves for SP’s commitment to sustainable existence.
I believe strongly in the community element as well. Personally for me, the crowning moment was when 30 kindergarten children greeted me warmly with a “Good Morning, Farmer Wooiz” when I went to their school to help them start their community garden. Their innocent faces and enthusiasm to be engaged in gardening gave me much hope that the beautiful journey has begun and that we have many joining us in the endeavour.
Me: You have an interesting mix of flowers, vegetables, herbs, and fruit trees here, how many plant varieties do you have on the polytechnic grounds? Also, what happens when fruits and vegetables are ready for harvest? 🙂
Wooi-Hsen: We have many varieties and from trial and error, we have learnt to grow the hardier varieties whilst we continue to experiment with new ones. I will typically harvest whatever is in season, take some nice pictures and send everyone an email to tell them to help themselves. Some items are particularly fast-moving.
For all the effort by the team to tend to the plants and share with everyone, we get many, many emails thanking us for the effort to share. What we enjoy in putting our effort into the hobby is multiplied many times when we see the affirmation of doing something for the community. Over the years, we have grown the following:
- Fruits (Papaya, jackfruit, starfruit, pomelo, banana, custard apple, jambu, guava, longan, lemon, belimbing, chiku, limau kasturi, kaffir lime, buah long long, soursop, durian, etc.)
- Vegetables (pak choi, a few types of tomatoes, sweet potatoes, turnip, beetroot, radish, bittergourd, angled loofah, cucumber, long beans, French beans, aloe vera, ladies’ fingers etc.)
- Herbs & Spices (laksa leaves, sweet basil, Thai basil, many varieties of chillies, lemon grass, rosemary, torch ginger-rojak flower, dill, etc.)
- Flowers (sunflowers, xiao niao shu, rose cactus, Rangoon vine, button ginger, lantana, balsam, etc.)
- Others (serai wangi-Citronella)
Me: The photos of birds, insects and flowers that you contributed to the book are very beautiful, and during my visit there, we saw a few different species of birds, and even a blue banded bee. It seems like SP has created a healthy ecosystem on its campus. Is this something that SP had planned for?
Wooi-Hsen: I believe that it was not really planned for but the natural environment provided a healthy habitat for many species. With the over fifty species of birds in campus, it is a joy to hear bird song throughout the day but most obvious in the early mornings and late evening. A colleague sent me the picture of a snake just outside the CASS Resource Room window for identification. It was an exquisite Paradise Tree Snake and was taking shelter in the shade of the Rangoon vine I had planted next to the window.
We have beautiful Crested Tree Lizards, Changeable Lizards, a huge variety of exotic species of birds visiting the vine. The glass windows serves as a one-way mirror and staff are sometimes privileged with have a chance close-up view of them.
Me: Could you share some tips for people who would like to start their own community garden?
Wooi-Hsen: NParks has a Community in Bloom Department which helps communities to start their own gardens. I have personally helped out in quite a few and it is a joy to share in their efforts too. In many of the visits to these other gardens, I am usually presented with gifts of fruits and vegetables which they have grown. Some tips include these below.
- Assess the area for the garden (how much sunlight, wind, rain, good soil, pests etc.)
- Identify and select suitable plants based on No.1 (E.g. Orchid garden, Cactus garden, Herb garden, Foliage garden, Flower garden, Vegetable/Fruit garden, hydroponics etc.)
- Purchase or prepare the layout of the garden (plant type, size, aesthetics over the long term)
- Planting (on the ground or in pots. Note: potted plants can be moved around to suit optimal conditions)
- Garden management and maintenance (watering, adding fertilizer, fruiting, weeding, pest-control, pruning, transplanting, harvesting etc.)
- Garden rejuvenation (to listen when Nature speaks to you)
- Enjoying the garden
Me: How do people get their hands on this lovely book?
Wooi-Hsen: It is a commemorative book celebrating SP’s 60th Anniversary and is as such, not for sale, though all staff will be given a complimentary copy. For members of the public, a digital copy will be available at http://www.sp.edu.sg/
Me: Thanks Wooi-Hsen!
Be sure to have a look at the book!