Sunday, May 20, 2007

Urban Gardening to Connect People and Cool the City

An article from Reuters reporter Gillian Murdoch entitled Asia's high-rise gardeners unearth key to cooler cities explains how the hobby of gardening is improving lives, building community networks, and also cooling urban areas. The story starts in Singapore, where most the population lives in government-owned apartment complexes. Some have taken up gardening, either on their balcony or in community gardens around their apartment.

The rapid post-sixties rise of the urban tower block saw Asia's low-level landed properties demolished for mass housing projects; and made backyards the domain of the minority who can afford detached homes.

It also created a unique urban gardening culture which is starting to flower as new voices popularize the idea.

Setting himself the goal of "bring gardening to the masses" Singaporean Wilson Wong, 28, started the Green Culture website in September 2004.

With no gardening shows on television and plant nursery staff often puzzled about how to advise apartment gardeners, the forum has attracted hundreds of active high-rise gardeners, keen to swap ideas and plant cuttings.

"I thought I was the only one -- the only odd nut, the only crazy person interested in growing vegetables" said Wong, whose balcony-less flat houses 80 African violets, South American bromeliads and pitcher plants.

"Now people get to know each other. They exchange plants, they meet, they make nursery trips together. It makes gardening so much less painful".


"From the scientific point of view, every plant produces a cooling effect," said Professor Nyuk Hien Wong, of the Department of Building at the National University of Singapore, who designs the green walls.

"The rule of thumb is one degree less is a five percent (energy) saving".

Against this backdrop, Asia's apartment gardeners are taking a small, but important, step in the right direction, he said.

"If you look at it as one individual unit doing that, it may not be that significant. But if everybody is doing it, there may be a very big impact".

The Case of the Purloined Papaya
When I visited Singapore last year, I saw some fruit and vegetable gardens next to apartment blocks such as the one pictured to the right. The sky was exceptionally gray that day because of intentionally set forest fires in Indonesia. The smoke drifts across Southeast Asia, creating gray skies, a smoky aroma, and unhappy lungs.

One of the residents had planted a papaya tree and covered the growing papayas with cloth to protect them (from birds? from insects?). The cloth alone, however, wasn't enough. The grower needed a sign to deter potential purloiners of the prized papaya. The first photo below shows the covered papayas; the second photo shows a closeup of the sign.

The English portion of the sign reads "I appreciate you like the small papaya. Please do not pluck it. You can buy it at the nearby market. Thank you!"

Random link from the archive: Curry Leaves

Technorati tags: Singapore : Gardening : Travel


ed said...

"I appreciate you like the small papaya. I have plucked it. You can buy it at the nearby market. Thank you!"

...could be the response of any 'purloiner'. After all, the original message could work both ways could it not?

btw, they might have covered it for ripening purposes.

"Now people get to know each other. They exchange plants, they meet, they make nursery trips together. It makes gardening so much less painful".

These are, in singapore, socially appropriate ways to meet...since talking intelligently about significant issues is a 'no no' amongst the chinese. That makes LIFE 'less painful' as they can concern themselves with other things and leave their future in the hands of their rulers.

Marc said...

ed --

You're right that the purloiner could have written a similar message. However, there is something special about growing your own fruits and vegetables, a sense of a journey and accomplishment.

As for garden groups being an "appropriate" way to meet to talk about an approved subject, one could also argue that building social networks can lead to significant discussions about unapproved subjects. I imagine that people who know each other through a garden club are much more likely to talk about "significant issues" than people who have never met.

Elise said...

Hi Marc - After a couple of years in which people would come by and strip the pomegranates from our tree, last year I wrote Please do not steal over all of the poms within reach. It worked! I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the next season.