Published on 15th February 2023 on

Known as Woodlands Botanical Garden, this award-winning community garden is situated on a hillside in Marsiling spanning 2500m2 over 9 storeys. Furnished with more than 200 varieties of plants, this is a wonderland for birds, bees, butterflies and other garden inhabitants. The good news is it is open round the clock to the public for visits.

Officially launched in July 2020, this showstopping garden is tended to by Woodlands Botanical Garden Chairman Ganesh, his father and a team of around 20 residents. Together they plant, prune, build garden structures and undertake general garden tasks, including feeding the budgerigars who have their own enclosure on the premises.

Even though this garden was established not long ago, it has already won three awards, including Garden of Year 2022. Flowers that can be found here include roses, Melastoma, Tecoma, Plumbago, Crossandra, Chalicevine, Musical Notes plant and a wide variety of Hibiscus.

Thanks to the diversity of plants and the community garden’s approach to stewarding the garden, visitors are treated to day-long sightings of bees, butterflies, birds, dragonflies and other pollinators. The pond has helped attract more wildlife to the garden, in addition, Ganesh believes in letting nature take its course, and does not intervene when caterpillars and snails make a meal of the plants.

Ganesh has built a few gardens throughout the years, beginning with his grandfather’s garden, a community garden in Hougang, followed by a garden in one of NTU’s halls, where he was the residential mentor. With this garden, he hopes that it can serve as a mental wellness garden for others to enjoy.

Read on to find out more about Ganesh and Woodlands Botanical Garden.

1.When did you discover that you like plants?

As far as I remember, my earliest memory was always in the garden. I was maybe two or three years old then. So my grandma and grandpa were always in the garden every day. Then on weekends, my parents used to join them. So by extension, I was also always in the garden, looking at how much my grandma used to love plants and talk to them also at times. I realized that plants are also living things and the joy they brought to them started to spread to me. I received my first hibiscus when I was about three years old. That was a pink hibiscus, that was my first plant and that’s when my journey began.

2. What made you decide to start Woodlands Botanical Garden?

It’s a very interesting story actually, because the origins go back to all the way to when I first bought this house. That was about five years back. At that time I was going all around Singapore, looking for a house that I liked, I saw so many houses and when I came to view this house, I discovered there is a temple nearby, which was one of the criteria for me.
And then when I entered the estate I saw this amazing hill. That was an opportunity for me to hopefully do something in the future, you know? I think these two factors were very big considerations when I bought this house. So when I saw that hill, I was always thinking, I hope one day I could plant just one plant there. That was all that would’ve made me happy, I never imagined that it would grow to this scale and that was a miracle by itself.

Gardening was always an avenue of peace for me. Not only peace, but how this peace comes about is because it brings back so many good memories, you know, family and friends, even as I got older, when I was in JC. Somehow I always used to get my friends involved in gardening at my house. So it was free labour, but you know, I think everyone enjoyed themselves.

I think gardening is a hobby that you really need to get your hands dirty in order to know whether you love it or not. So far, everyone who has helped me has enjoyed this hobby. So I have to pass the passion on to others, I think that is a motivation to push me further.

I’ve built a few gardens along the years, I started in my grandpa’s garden then a community garden in Hougang, followed by a hall garden in NTU hall 12. I was the residential mentor there and I started the garden there. I had a little bit of experience from that, starting a garden from scratch. What you see here today is based on my experience from there.

3. Was it easy to start this community garden? What steps were involved?

This garden began in July 2020 officially, but actually about three months before that I planted my first plant. At that time there was a lot of planting occurring at various parts of the hill. So I thought, maybe I can plant that one plant that I wanted to plant, so I planted that plant and people started walking past, they started sharing with me how they love what I’m planting and how they look forward to seeing what is new every day. So I planted a few more at just one stretch.

Then NParks came to find me, they said, “Hey, you know, you cannot plant here”. I did apologize at first because it was my first time planting in an open space. So I saw all the other planting I thought, okay maybe it’s not so bad. I told them,” Look at the amount of butterflies that are here, the amount of birds that are coming”, in just that few moments that we were there. I said,” If you really want to remove all this, or you want me to remove them, I definitely will do so because at the end of the day, we don’t want to make anyone’s job difficult”. I told them it’s up to them.

The important thing that is that I was always polite, and so on the spot, they just glanced over the plants and seeing it was mid afternoon, there were so many butterflies flying around. It helped also that my officer was a butterfly lover, so that was thanks to God.

They looked at it and then they said, “Okay, why not you submit a proposal and let’s make it official”. So I did that during the circuit breaker and when the circuit breaker ended in June, we officially began the garden in July 2020.

4. What challenges did you encounter while creating Woodlands Botanical Garden?

This was the only challenge. I was unsure whether I had to remove the garden. So once we got it official, NParks was brilliant, they let me use the space and didn’t really disturb me as long as I told them what I was planting and where I was going to plant it.

They were very, very nice and forthcoming, with their advice as well. They never disturbed me, they just came once a week to check on what I’m doing and if I had issues to bring up to them and they were happy to help me with that.

5. What has this journey taught you?

I think the lessons are numerous, you know. It’s not simply about planting a plant, but because this was an open garden, it actually became a very communal space, and through that, we learned so much about so many people. Residents who used to just walk past suddenly started to talk to us and open up to us.

And we used to share so many moments, like whether they were happy or some were sharing their not so happy side of life, like what’s happening at home and all, but it became a, a space of comfort and also a place to share and build more memories as well.

So if you ask me, a particular lesson would be that humans are very social. They’re all social creatures and we just need more spaces for them to bring that up, which I feel is missing in Singapore these days. We have many events and all that, but if you ask me about everyday gathering and communication, there aren’t many opportunities. And I think a garden is a perfect example to do that.

6. What is your favourite plant?

This is a very common question I get. So I think to easily name one would really be the pink hibiscus that I got as a kid, because this garden was built on the memory of my mom, but I would say that gardening itself begun with the time I spent at the garden with my grandma.

You know, and she’s the one who gave me this plant, I always felt that the whole neighborhood used to love my grandma, and everyone was in their garden in the weekends and we all used to exchange plants and there was just so much laughter. Every weekend was such a happy time. So even now, 30 years later when I look at that plant, I recall all the good times we had in the garden.

7. What advice would you give people wanting to start a community garden?

Firstly, you need to make sure you have a very dedicated team that will help you. I think it’s quite well known that many people have want to pursue an interest, but it’s a very short lived sort of thing. So all you need is about two to three dedicated people who are willing to commit and actually sustain the garden.

Once you have this then approach your RC for more advice or the CIB program in NParks and they will let you know how to start up the garden. Most importantly, you need a dedicated team.

8. Do you have any meaningful stories to share about Woodlands Botanical Garden?

Marsiling being an older estate, there are a lot of seniors here and some of them can’t converse well in English, but what is the beautiful thing I would say here is that they still want to communicate with me to tell me how much they enjoy the garden.

So I remember when we were in the very early stages, there used to be this lady who used to walk with a back brace. One day I was taking a break, then she came towards me. I asked her,” Auntie, how come you’re walking? Isn’t your back hurting?”. She said,”yeah” because she went for surgery just maybe two or three months before.

I said to her, shouldn’t she be resting? She was trying to communicate with me because she was Chinese-speaking, so we were both trying to have that conversation. She was telling me that it is painful, but she feels like she must walk here every day. She is so eager to come and see what we have done. See the flowers that bloom for that day and I think it was a very touching thing for me because being able bodied and climbing our hill is one thing, it’s already quite a task, but for you to say that I’m in pain, but yet it’s more important for me to see your flowers.

I think that meant a lot to me. And beyond that she was trying to talk about money. So I was thinking, oh, she’s asking me for a few dollars or what then she was like, no, no, no, no. Then she took out four bucks and then she passed it to me. Then she tried to communicate to me to say that,” Hey keep this for the garden”.

So at that point, there were other people who offered me small amounts of money and I tried to say no, then I realized that actually this few bucks is what makes them happy. They all want to be part of this garden. So learning that lesson, I took the four bucks and I think I didn’t see anyone smile so big before, you know?

She was so happy to just give me something. Besides her, so many people expressed similar feelings and told me how happy they are when they come here. And what more do you want from a garden actually? Than people coming here enjoying the space and basically being happy.

9. What advice would you give an aspiring gardener?

So the biggest piece of advice I would give to an aspiring gardener might be quite cliche, but the truth is don’t give up.

Gardening is looking after another living thing, right? So let’s say having a pet, you can always put food at one corner of the house and the dog or cat can go and walk and take its own food and water, but plants are not like that. So there’s a lot of responsibility involved and discipline to actually look after your plants.

Most of the time we fail because we never look after our plants. Secondly to add on to that, don’t take advice wholesale. So if you say there’s this problem, and usually the advice is water your plant less, or water your plant more, but not everything is about watering.

So go and read up a bit on what you can from the internet, but most importantly, ask people who are growing similar plants. Don’t take every plant as the same. Now it’s so easy because we have all these forums. We have Facebook groups, so go and find someone who is successful at growing that particular plant, and you’ll be amazed at the wealth of info you can get.

So don’t be discouraged so easily, you know, planting takes some time and becoming an expert takes a really, really long time. Even after almost 40 years, I would not call myself an expert. There’s just so much to learn.

Woodlands Botanical Garden can be found beside Block 134 Marsiling Road. Follow their garden updates online on their website or on Instagram.

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