Plant some plants
One plant-lover tends a lush mini-garden inside the bedroom. Others have multitudes of pots that take over balconies or let their greenery bask in artificial light for 12 hours a day.
Extreme plantsmen go to great lengths to build up and care for their collection. They buy from nurseries around the world, take part actively in international and Singapore forums, as well as trade plants with enthusiasts.
Read the stories of these plant lovers who’ve built up lush gardens in their own homes!
Primary school science teacher Cindy Chiang, 43, likes the challenge of growing something difficult.
She collects and grows carnivorous plants from genuses such as Drosera, Byblis and Nepenthes. The latter is also known as tropical pitcher plants or monkey cups (pictured).
She estimates that 200 to 300 plants are sprouting in the balcony, bedroom and by the window sills in her five-room HDB flat.
As a child, she was intrigued after her father described a Nepenthes that her grandfather used to cultivate. She would later see it in a science textbook.
She has pursued her passion for 20 years and would go to the library to borrow books or take notes in the reference section. “It was as if I was writing a research paper,” she says. She also “shamelessly hounded” professors in the United States and elsewhere via e-mail for information.
She says: “There are plants that people tell us can’t be grown in Singapore, but I try to push the limits.”
Lawyer Russel Low, 41, has no qualms about being labelled an “extreme” plant hobbyist.
About half his 7,000 sq ft semi-detached house in Clementi is covered with a plethora of plants. Some encroach on the driveway, so he manoeuvres carefully when he parks.
“I’m one of a handful of people who go all out. I have a few thousand plants, so any available space is premium space. I definitely have one of the more unusual gardens in the neighbourhood,” says Mr Low.
His family “tolerates” the vast number of plants they have to live with, he says.
He has always been a keen gardener, but started collecting seriously in 2007, and focused on growing bromeliads and Costus, a genus of ginger.
Since then, he has gone on to collect succulents, tillandsias (air plants), xeric plants and trees – which do not need much water – as well as rare tropical plants and orchids.
While the bachelor has an enviably huge collection, he is not gunning for a record. Gardening simply relaxes him. “There are people who collect plants without being gardeners. I’ve grown plants from seeds and enjoy watching the growing process. That’s an achievement to me, rather than claiming I have a particular plant in my collection.”
Mr Cultura Daryl, 28, started gardening about three years ago, with edibles such as Thai basil and cherry tomatoes.
Later, he bought a Venus Flytrap (pictured) and a pot of sundews – both carnivorous plants – from a nursery, without knowing how to care for them.
They soon died. But that only spurred him to find out more about how to grow them and kicked off his “obsession” with acquiring carnivorous plants.
While he has stopped collecting Venus Flytraps, he has branched out into keeping begonias, jewel orchids, cacti, succulents and pitcher plants.
Aside from placing them around the house, he has two 1.2m tanks in his bedroom that are fitted with artificial lights.
“I’ve stopped counting the number of plants I have as I am always acquiring new ones, or other plants die or are traded away,” he says. “I definitely consider myself obsessed. Most people my age are more focused on their careers and getting married, while I am investing a lot of time in my plants.”
He takes between a few minutes and half an hour every morning and night to check on his plants for signs of growth, pests or diseases. He spends more time during the weekends to repot them or get new greenery and supplies from nurseries.
Secondary school teacher Gary Ong, 34, has more than 1,000 cacti (pictured) and succulents – a collection that grew too big for his five-room HDB flat in Serangoon that he moved the plants to a rented plot near Sungei Tengah two years ago.
He pays a monthly fee of about $200 for the 860 sq ft plot. As he works in Choa Chu Kang – near his plot – he checks on his plants almost every other day.
He goes online to find plants on sale from foreign nurseries or on eBay and even flies overseas. Since he started his hobby in 2008, he has been spending a few hundred dollars every month to grow his collection and on materials. But he has scaled back as he has run out of space.
The bachelor, who started with cheap cacti that were on sale at nurseries here, says: “If you are a serious collector, price isn’t an issue. I like searching for plants that are different – rare plants or those that have interesting colour and form. These can be more difficult to propagate.
“You can also create your own hybrids. There’s joy in being able to show what’s in your collection and grow and multiply them, ” says Mr Ong, whose rarest plant is the Haworthia Yamada Black, which costs about $1,000.
Ms Isabelle Lee, 24, shares her bedroom with about 50 pots of African violets and slipper orchids. The beauties are stacked on racks or placed in big plastic containers; the collection extends even to her balcony.
Unlike her friends, Ms Lee is more captivated by plants than social media. “I may not be as up to date with the latest online trends as my friends, but I enjoy growing plants as they are interesting and can be challenging,” she says.
While she enjoyed gardening as a child, Ms Lee started taking the hobby seriously only in her third year at Republic Polytechnic, where she studied environmental science.
Space is a constraint, so she “trains” the plants to stay smaller by removing their outermost leaves and chooses miniature plants to grow.
When she buys young plants from overseas growers or at fairs here, such as the Singapore Garden Festival, she uses her pocket money that she has saved up.
Besides reading up online, she taps on the knowledge of the sellers to learn to grow the plants better. For example, she learnt that placing a piece of tissue over a tight crown of leaves helps them get filtered light.
Her green fingers have impressed more experienced gardeners.
Ms Lee, who volunteers with the Nature Society (Singapore) and Gardens by the Bay, says: “They are amazed as they can’t keep some plants alive. I want to grow more African violets, but my parents tell me to stop as there isn’t any more space.”
People make the journey to admire Gardens by the Bay, but Mr Siaw Yu Zhang can claim that he has a personal “Garden by the Bed”.
The 19-year-old, who is serving his national service (NS), wakes up to a collection of begonias in his room. He keeps some in two 1.2m-long fish tanks chock-a-block with small pots of begonias – his speciality.
Then, there are metal racks which he installed and are lined with plastic containers of more begonias. He propagates many from leaf cuttings.
The enterprising youth even found professional grow lights from Finland – a better option than the amateurish artificial lights he started out with.
Mr Siaw started growing begonias outdoors last year, but the heat “steamed” them and they wilted, he says.
This year, he set up his bedroom “laboratory”, where he monitors the temperature in the tanks and ensures that it does not go above 30 deg C. This mimics the natural living conditions of begonias, he says.
His efforts have paid off. Besides growing them well, he has even managed to get an orange flower sprouting from one of the species – a rare occurrence.
By Natasha ann Zachariah, The Straits Times, 27 August 2016
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