11 Apr 5:50 AM
Indoor gardens take pride of place at several organisations, with both corporates and institutions bringing the community garden concept a step further. BT Weekend takes a walk in the park.
Article extracted from http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/lifestyle/design/green-rooms
FOR staff of the Metta Welfare Association, creating green spaces within its Simei building is not so much about aesthetics but a therapeutic activity to benefit both themselves and students of the Metta School.
“Our students with mild intellectual disability, special needs or autism enjoy growing things with their own hands and experiencing the joy of taking care of other living beings, instead of always having others take care of them,” says Ee Tiang Hwee, deputy executive director of the Buddhist charity organisation. “It is very good for developing their self esteem.”
Founded in 1992 by Venerable Shi Fa Zhao, abbot of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, the association’s six-storey building was opened in 2002 and has always been adorned with plants and greenery. Today, apart from housing its special education school, offices, art studio, cafe and retail store for vocational training, it boasts multiple green spaces – from an indoor garden located in an airwell of the building and butterfly garden that flanks the carpark, to a herb garden corner and offices filled with potted plants.
The school’s special needs students tend to the gardens and paint or create batik artworks featuring butterflies or blooms inspired by the plants that they see around them. Mr Ee would also pick up caterpillars from “host plants” – plants that attract the insects to lay eggs, and keep them in netted laundry baskets so students could observe the stages of metamorphosis before releasing the butterflies.
And it isn’t just the children who engage in gardening. Every Friday evening, staff members are encouraged to engage in recreational activities such as brisk walking or badminton. Around 20 staff would attend workshops on gardening or tend to the greenery. Mr Ee personally conducts workshops on various aspects of the pastime, from planting orchids to creating terrariums. In fact, most of the office cubicles resemble miniature gardens with pots of plants lining desks and shelves.
“My office is really a nursery,” reveals Mr Ee, who lovingly cultivates young plants, saplings and terrariums in his office before transferring them to the gardens when the plants are more developed. “I also like to give our guests of honour and VIPs a potted plant. They already have so many acrylic mementos from various organisations. So they will always remember us when they see my plant.”
From a tender age, Mr Ee would help his parents tend the garden in their Serangoon Gardens home. His mother was a fan of orchids while his father enjoyed the fruits from their own fruit trees – Mr Ee recalls climbing up jackfruit trees to retrieve the pungent-smelling fruit. He even sold cuttings of African violets to nurseries to earn extra pocket money as a pre-university student. Asked if he has green fingers, he remarks: “You don’t need to have green fingers. Even my plants die. It’s all trial and error.”
Among the plethora of plant species found at the Metta Building is a wide range of edibles, including fruits like pomelo, starfruit, rambutan, longan and jambu. Its Metta Cafe, which provides food and beverage vocational training for the school’s graduates, also harvests the produce from this mini farm – especially its curry and laksa leaves, and other fresh herbs. Mr Ee, who stashes a plastic bag in his pocket on his jogs, keeps a lookout for seeds which he collects. Through a Skype chat, he announces his newest acquisitions to Metta’s gardening group and passes them on to any takers. These budding gardeners also help themselves to soil and gardening tools kept in the pantry.
“There is no grand master plan,” admits Mr Ee, who recommends indoor gardening newbies start with growing money plants. “Sometimes I wonder if I am gardening or working here.”
By May Yip