The Balcony Gardener – A Personal Journey and Putting Roots Down in Singapore

I moved from London to Singapore just over four years ago. Amongst many other things, I left a home that I loved and one of the things I missed most about it was my little back garden.

I used to go in there intending to spend 10 minutes, only to find I’d been there for two hours and forgotten to cook the dinner. I just loved it. It was my little sanctuary in the city.

For the first two years living in Singapore I refused to grow a single thing. It was partly in protest to being here – I so desperately wanted to return home and I was counting the days. I told myself it wasn’t worth my effort to grow anything as it would have to be one extra thing to “get rid” of when I left.

Towards the end of the initial two year trial period that I had agreed on with Mr Lip, I realised that I was about to leave with very little to show for my time here in terms of getting to know or experience Singapore and what it had to offer. Giving myself and this tiny island a chance, I decided to stay for another two years and this time I was going to “enjoy the ride” but without any commitments to staying beyond that time frame.

This new mentality was reflected in my gardening. Whilst I was happy to grow annuals and biennials (plants that take one or two growing seasons to complete their lifecycle) I was still reluctant to grow any perennials (plants that last for more than two growing seasons and potentially forever!).

Although there were many flowers in this category my main focus was on edible plants. Keen to draw on my past success I started with tomatoes, but they weren’t a patch on the bountiful crops of sweet juicy and fragrant vines from my little garden back home- not that I expected them to be, rather it was an experiment to see how they would grow in this climate (they were lesser versions of their London grown counterparts -less of a crop, less sweet, less fragrant and the skins were thicker). But what put me off growing them (for now – never say never) is that they were plagued with white fly.

Vine tomatoes, cherry tomato, homegrown
Isn’t this a beautiful vine? (Sorry I did try to find a picture of them when red and ripe but after hours of trawling through my disorganised photo archive I lost the will and gave up). That summer in my little London back garden sanctuary I had a bumper crop of the sweetest ripe on the vine cherry tomatoes. I was giving away stock pots worth and still had plenty left over to make pasta sauce for the freezer.
I tried growing the same variety in Singapore as a comparison/experiment. The crop was a far cry from what you see here (a couple of handfuls worth) but there was still a real sense of achievement as it was the very first food crop I had ever tried to grow in Singapore and I had no idea if it would even fruit.

 

Sweet basil, Thai basil and mint did very well, but for some reason rosemary died on me, I will definitely try and grow it again. Most impressive however were the butternut squash and bitter gourd vines. Both were grown from seed which I obtained from the kitchen cutting board. The butternut vine didn’t last beyond one season but it produced many large leaves and pretty yellow flowers. Best of all it bore two beautiful and rather tasty squashes as well, which I used to make into soup. The bitter gourd produced a fair crop (which I can’t report on as I don’t eat them personally, but I was told that they where nice by those who did). I managed to save the base and root to take to my new apartment (I like it for it’s pretty leaves) and a new vine seems to be forming, watch this space to see if it produces for another season.

Balcony garden, sggarden, singapore gardening, butternut squash, balcony garden
One of two butternut squashes grown on my balcony last year from seeds which were obtained from my kitchen chopping board.

 

bitter gourd, vines, sg gardening, gardening in singapore, balcony garden, balcony gardener.
This bitter gourd vine took the place of the butternut squash on my balcony. It bore many small fruit and I was informed that they were tasty. Apparently the leaves are edible too.

 

At the start of my fifth year in Singapore and having just moved to another new apartment, I’m likely to be here for another two years. This time I have a much larger balcony than my last with large planters running along two sides. They beckon to be filled with soil and plants. Feeling a stronger sense of belonging now (I’m far from being a newbie in Singapore) I find myself dreaming of a beautiful balcony to sit and read at, maybe to eat breakfast on during the weekends or to spend evenings with friends wine in hand.

Conscious of being a renter, I’m not going to go crazy and start planting oak trees (or whatever the Singaporean equivalents are) but I’ve already been down to the garden centre to buy pots of bougainvillea and I’m searching for outdoor furniture. It’s baby steps at this point.

singapore garden, pandan leaf, Balcony garden, sg Garden, Singapore balcony
Humble beginnings, the assortment of pots I have at the start of this journey. To fully disclose what I have growing on my balcony at time of writing: A small bitter gourd vine, a single curry leaf stem and a pandan plant from my old apartment. I have also purchased two bougainvilleas, propagated supermarket basil, and also planted pumpkin seeds and ginger root, again originally purchased in the supermarket for the kitchen.

 

I’m eager to build on the success I had with propagating basil and will be continuing to experiment with growing more from seeds and scraps usually destined for the kitchen bin. Sustainability, reusing, recycling and up-cycling are topics close to Ordinary People’s hearts, but in our busy lives we often choose new or convenience instead. However if gardening is part of your life, you will find there are few places where sustainability can be more easily practiced.

See how I incorporate green living into my outdoor space by following my story here. Keep up to date by signing up to our newsletter or following us on Facebook or Instagram.

All images Anna Hui

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