[Mr Har Kiet Leng (seated second from right), fellow volunteers and the NParks staff.]
YOU could say Mr Har Kiet Leng’s love for gardening took root as a child when he watched his grandmother tend to her vegetable garden in Bukit Timah, back in those kampong days. But his passion for gardening took time to bloom as Mr Har was too busy running his family’s home furniture business. When he retired in 2011, this gardening greenhorn finally found the time to flex his green fingers. Now, at 67, Mr Har is an active garden leader of Thomson Sin Ming Community Garden and a National Parks Board (NParks) Community in Bloom (CIB) Ambassador.
In 2016, the grandfather of 10 reaped the fruits of his labour when the Thomson Sin Ming Community Garden received the Diamond Award in NParks’ Community in Bloom Awards that year. This award recognises community gardens that are consistently outstanding in their quality, community involvement, environmentally-friendly practices and biodiversity. When the Successful Ageing Singapore team met with Mr Har over a cuppa one morning, we found out that besides being a talented gardener, he was also an award-winning ballroom dancer. Find out more about this multi-talented senior with the green fingers and the fancy footwork...
Congratulations Mr Har on your community garden’s latest achievement! Have you always been good at gardening?
My interest in gardening was ignited when, as a child, I watched my grandmother grow vegetables in our kampong. But I never had a chance to garden as I was very busy with my family business. I began volunteering with NParks in 2011 when I retired and got to know some of my RC members, and joined the activities they organised. I heard that there were plans to have a small vegetable garden at Sin Ming, so I joined them! From there it was about being very open and willing to learn from my mentor, experimenting a lot and learning from failures. Today, whatever vegetables I set my heart and mind on growing, I can grow them! Now, my main objective is to teach fellow volunteers how to grow vegetables well – for example, how to get rid of parasites and fertilise the soil.
The Thomson Sin Ming Community Garden is Mr Har Kiet Leng’s labour of love. He estimates that over half of the vegetables are grown by him.
Were there any challenges you faced as an NParks volunteer? How did you overcome them?
Initially, the volunteers were not well-acquainted and a little formal with each other. I had to take time to understand their personalities. Over time, I earned their respect... I believe it’s because my vegetables grew exceptionally well and it impressed them! Initially, the garden was also a little messy as everyone grew whatever they wanted without proper planning. I’ve since worked with the volunteers to tidy the garden and segment it. Personally, I like things to be neat and organised. We now have 30 regular volunteers, and we give tips to committed new joiners who are genuinely interested in gardening. NParks gives us a lot of advice and encouragement too.
Take a virtual tour of the garden, which spans 90sqm or the size of one basketball court. It has more than 10 types of vegetables, including eggplant, lady’s fingers, chye sim, loofah, kale, xiaobaicai, white radish and purple maize.
What do you love doing besides gardening?
I love hiking and travelling. Nature always leaves me in awe. I enjoy travelling to China, South Korea and Japan. I also love constructing new things. In the garden, I’ve constructed a small pavilion where visitors can sip some tea and chat. I’ve also built a model of my old kampong for visitors to admire!
Mr Har seeks shelter in the pavilion he built while enjoying a cup of Chinese tea.
I’ve also taken part in many ballroom dancing competitions. Now that I’m retired, I teach ballroom dancing, right at home! My wife and I have our regular students who have been learning from us for about six years. They’re mostly senior married couples.
Could you tell us more about your ballroom dancing?
My wife Rosa and I picked up ballroom dancing when our children had grown up. We were 48 and 47 respectively. Since then we’ve taken part in competitions. We’ve even performed before an audience of 1,000 people.
Awards the couple has won include the Novice Modern Champion in the Malaysia Rising Star Dancesport Championships in 1997 and Over 40 Modern Champion in the Melaka Rising Star Dancesport Championships in 2000. Many more trophies fill up an entire cabinet.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to fellow seniors?
As we get on in age, we should slow down our footsteps and pursue our interests. In order to do something well, we must have an interest in it too. Whatever stirs your heart, act on it! (In Mandarin: 心动, 就要行动!) If you don’t act on it, you’ll find that you’re still in the same situation one year from now. I believe that we should always keep active and be out and about!
The Thomson Sin Ming Community Garden is located at 409 Sin Ming Ave, Singapore 570409. Feel free to pop by and check out Mr Har’s labour of love!
If you would like to join the NParks Community in Bloom programme, visit www.nparks.gov.sg/cib or email: firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries.