Published on 1st June 2022 on Mothership.

If you don’t live in the vicinity of Block 134 Marsiling Road, you might have never known that this tiny green gem exists even if you’re a north-sider.

Enclosed in the front by Blocks 134, 135 and 133, and Woodlands Town Park East in the back, the Woodlands Botanical Garden takes up one side of the hill the park is located on.

Parkgoers who do not venture beyond the summit of Woodlands Town Park East might completely bypass the garden.

Land used to be barren

The Woodlands Botanical Garden is a community garden, entirely managed by a group of around 20 residents.

The plot of land the garden currently sits on used to be barren and covered in lalang, Ganesh Kumar (Ganesh), the 37-year-old resident who kickstarted this ground-up effort, told Mothership.

Ganesh, who is a full-time chemistry tutor, shared that gardening has been in the family for generations — both his grandparents and parents have green fingers — and the hobby was something they inculcated in Ganesh and his sister, Shivane Devakumar.

When his mother passed away, Ganesh fell into depression, and he turned to gardening to cope with the loss.

He started off by planting 10 to 15 trees along the path that wound around the middle of the hill in March 2020.

Ganesh shared how he would have to repeatedly lug jerry cans of water from their HDB flat nearby down to the garden whenever they needed to water the plants by the path.

While residents were supportive of his actions, he was soon approached by staff from the National Parks Board (NParks), as the land technically belonged to the government.

NParks staff were impressed by his efforts though.

“So they came to talk to me about it, you know, like whether we should be removing the plants or not. I said, I’m okay with whatever decision you make but maybe you can come see the butterflies and the bees and then you let us know, if really we need to remove of course, we will follow the law. Yeah, so when they came down, they were very impressed with the amount of biodiversity.”

Ganesh was urged to submit a proposal for a community garden, and he was later given the green light to continue planting in July 2020.

An ornamental, mental wellness garden

In the two-and-a-half years since then, the garden has expanded to a respectable 2,500sqm.

Although not all the flowers were in bloom at the time Mothership visited, the place was a riot of colours.

Ganesh’s 70-year-old father gave us a tour of the garden, pointing out various types of plants.

Woodlands Botanical Garden boasts over 200 types of flowers and plants, including some rather unique-looking ones.

The garden is an ornamental one, and edibles like vegetables are not grown there.

The majority of the flowers are grown from cuttings Ganesh buys from nurseries.

He explains that flowers help to improve mental health, and hopes for the garden to be a mental wellness garden.

“Flowers [help] relax you and make you remember just how beautiful life is, [and] why every day is worth waking up for.”

Gardening also helps Ganesh “relate back” to his late mother, and he plants flowers that remind him of her.

Now, the garden sees plenty of residents visiting, with some helping out here and there on an ad hoc basis and doing some weeding whenever they visit. Kids will also occasionally chip in to water the plants.

Mini refuge for biodiversity

Not only has the garden been a sight for sore eyes for residents, it has become a refuge for birds — like bulbuls, pigeons, sunbirds, starlings and flowerpeckers — and bees, as well as 20 species of butterflies.

Ganesh explains that most importantly, the flowers he chooses to plant in the garden “must have a purpose”, which is to attract biodiversity.

DIY structures in the garden

The garden is decorated with DIY wooden structures and arches that are placed strategically along the pathways to allow creepers and vines to grow.

The paths, made of stepping stones and wood chips, were also constructed entirely by hand.

Nestled within the garden is a wooden enclosure built by residents, housing several budgerigars.

The birds were taken in after they were abandoned, and have now made ‘friends’ with the wild bulbuls.

Ganesh shares that he occasionally spots the budgerigars and the bulbuls, perched on a nearby bush, chirping at each other.

The residents’ lives were also made easier after the town council implemented a tap in the garden. Ganesh and the other residents then went about installing a piping system from top to bottom on the hill.

A community

“99 per cent of the work [in this garden] is done by us,” Ganesh proudly exclaims.

Ganesh is supported by a group of residents, who can be seen tending to the garden as often as him. They’re often seen there on Saturday mornings.

Six or seven of the 20 residents who are regularly involved are gardeners, while another group helps out with events and festivals, and a third group handles the water systems and physical structures in the garden.

Here are some of the most active contributors to the garden. From left, Guhen Markandran, Ramasamy Devakumar (Ganesh’s father), Desmond Teo, Shivane Devakumar (Ganesh’s sister), Eric Low, Ganesh Kumar, and Bridget and Grace (both not pictured). Photo by Ashley Tan

During the festive seasons, the events group spruces up the garden with Christmas trees and fairy lights.

Ganesh believes that one does not have to love plants to be a part of this community.

“So what we are trying to promote to our community, which I think has been successful here in Marsiling, is that we do not just need to love plants to be in a gardening committee. We can all contribute in our small way to helping a garden grow, because it’s not just about planting a plant in the ground. You know, there’s so many things we can do, [like] landscaping, and to beautify the place and make it our own.”

Nevertheless, Ganesh attributes the success of the garden to the hard work and enthusiasm the other residents have put in.

“I’ve been very blessed with wonderful people around me. Yeah, so this garden really is a tribute to everyone who has helped me.”

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