The children turn up almost every week at the same community garden in Punggol, but wandering among the fruits, flowers, herbs and vegetables still rouses them into an excited chatter.
Leading the kindergarteners from the Sunflower Preschool @ Punggol Field, which is located next door, is Mr Lim Keng Tiong, a 75-year-old retired contractor and the leader of the Punggol Coral resident's committee (RC) garden.
Against the towering Housing Board blocks behind them, this 200 sq m pocket of green space at Block 126D, Edgedale Plains transforms into their classroom with "Uncle Lim" as the teacher.
"The children enjoy watering the plants and feeding the fishes in the pond," said Mr Lim, who has been gardening as a hobby for more than a decade, since soon after he retired.
"Each time they visit, they are amazed to see how the seeds they planted have turned to seedlings and then, vegetables," he said, adding that the children are most thrilled when the brinjal, cucumber and bak choy they planted are later harvested.
When the nationwide Community in Bloom movement began in 2005, it gave green-fingered residents of all ages a chance to connect through a shared interest in gardening.
As community gardens have sprouted across the island, a growing number of them have also taken the lead in community outreach and education.
To cultivate a habit of recycling among the garden's visitors, Mr Lim and fellow gardener Cheong Kwai Fong, 64, hand-painted colourful motifs on old detergent bottles and redesigned them to hold orchids.
They have also turned discarded toilet bowls into flower pots.
Said Ms Jegatheswary Sundar Rajoo, 34, the mentor principal at Sunflower Preschool @ Punggol Field: "Having a garden at our doorstep is a good avenue for us to do a lot more for the children. They are able to learn hands-on."
The first community garden was opened in 2005 in the private housing estate of Mayfair Park in Bukit Timah, where an open monsoon drain was turned into a 100m-long walkway for residents to grow chillies, basil and other herbs and spices.
Twelve years later, there are more than 1,300 community gardening groups in public and private housing estates, organisations and schools, said the National Parks Board (NParks).
They are typically between 100 sq m and 150 sq m, although the bigger ones are around 1,000 sq m in size.
As part of a broader Edible Horticulture Plan launched last month, NParks will lease out 1,000 garden spaces in its parks by 2019 for anyone to grow their own plants.
Meanwhile, the community gardens remain in full bloom.
Behind Block 106, Bukit Batok Central, there are three gardens sitting side by side, boasting a total area of about 1,900 sq m.
They include a "Cosy Garden" which welcomed a new butterfly enclosure last year. It is where a few species such as the plain tiger butterfly roam.
Children from the nearby pre-schools and curious residents often pop by to observe the butterflies up close and learn about the insect's life cycle, said garden leader May Lee, 62, who is self-employed.
"I love to educate children to appreciate nature. It's something that they are not exposed to living in a city," Ms Lee said.
Over at the Marine Crescent RC, Ms Rosita Mary Cedillo, 76, takes pride in the RC garden being among the first few here to have a "fenceless" concept.
In a few instances, she was upset to find out that some plants were damaged. But she remains determined to keep the garden the way it is, and not behind lock and key.
She said: "The garden belongs to the residents and it should be open for everyone to pass through and enjoy."
Madam Iris Ho, 64, who heads the Wu Wo Yuan community garden at Block 607, Hougang Avenue 8, hopes that by reaching out to the community through various activities, including talks at schools, more residents will eventually chip in to keep the garden going.
The retired teacher helped set up Wu Wo Yuan, which translates to "Selfless Garden", nine years ago with a small group of volunteers. They won the award for the longest long bean at the Community Garden Edibles Competition 2017.
While it has over 30 active gardeners now, many of them are in their golden years.
She said: "We are happy to see the garden progress, but after so many years, some things are also breaking down. We will need stronger, younger people to help carry our legacy forward."
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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