Neighbourhood cultivation

Posted on: 13th August 2013

Published: Tuesday August 13, 2013

By Angelin Yeoh


Residents of Taman Tun Dr Ismail get together over community gardening.

A new breed of urban farmers takes over a neighbourhood vacant plot.

A new breed of urban farmers takes over a neighbourhood vacant plot.


WHEN teaching assistant Miriam Loh and her friends started the Taman Tun Dr Ismail Edible Project on Facebook, they swore to not be just another group of “keyboard warriors”.

“We started the group back in December last year. Mostly, we talked about starting our own community garden and what to do to get it started. We also swapped ideas and stories about our own gardening experience. Basically, it’s a space for people to learn about gardening from each other,” said Loh, 28.

The TTDI Edible Project then took off with a seed-swapping session in February. Architect Chew Pui Cheng, 23, explained how it works: “Basically, if I have a mulberry sapling and someone has an abundance of basil saplings, we can exchange saplings with one another. That way we save time, money and resources on gardening material.”

TTDI Edible Project's Miriam Loh tending over her vegetable bed in the garden.

After the initial seed-swapping session, Loh and her group was itching to get started on community gardening. The first thing they did was get in touch with the community’s residents association.

“The association advised us to work with City Hall so that prompted us to approach Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur. We have sent in a proposal about making use of an abandoned plot and right now, we’re still waiting for their feedback,” said Loh.

Freelance journalist Susan Tam, 35, said the wait was starting to put a damper on the group’s enthusiasm. They knew they had to take matters into their own hands.

The TTDI Edible Project found it’s space next to the tennis court at the community centre in Lorong Burhanuddin Helmi 8 in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Taman Tun Dr Ismail. Tam said it was crucial for the group to make use of the site once they knew it was available to them.

“The site is part of the community centre and nobody has really used it. So we decided to get started on that available space. Otherwise, we’d be just another Facebook group that forgets to do anything practical.”

A sunflower in full bloom at the garden.

Ultimately, one of the biggest draws of the project is having the liberty of space to plant fresh herbs, flowers and even fruit trees. Tam lamented that living in a condominium or highrise building prevents many from growing their own garden.

The group started by planting what they’ve got: from various fruit trees like mango, avocado and banana to herbs like basil and mint.

They also set up an A-frame made from bamboo to start bean poles. The group has a philosophy of not buying things for gardening purposes. “Whatever we’ve used at the garden, we got it from scavenging reusable items,” said Nisha Faizal, 33, who runs a social enterprise promoting edible gardens and sustainable living practices.

The bamboo sticks for the A-frame started out as flag poles. “After the recent general election, we went around hunting for flag poles to re-use for the garden. We took everything and we were open towards grabbing any party’s flag poles,” said Tam with a laugh.

Maintaining the garden is no picnic. Hunting for bamboo sticks itself was not an easy task. Nisha said some were already rotting and had accumulated water inside. When it comes to fertilising the grounds, the group chose to use horse manure.

“We just go to the horse stables in Bukit Kiara and ask for it. The stable workers are more than happy to give it away for free. You’re essentially helping people get rid of their waste,” said Tam.

“The workers help me pack about 100kg of horse manure in bags and they last for about four to six weeks.” Old wine bottles are reused as self-watering planters at the TTDI Edible Project garden.

To make the garden signs, the group used an old bed frame. They utilised old wine bottles as self-watering planters for the garden. They also rely on fish guts to improve the soil. “I get them for free from markets and again, it also helps other people get rid of their waste. Basically, you have to bury the guts deep in the ground so cats or other stray animals can’t get to them,” said Loh.

There is a problem, however, with the neighbourhood cats – they occasionally treat the garden like a huge litter box. “Unfortunately, cat poo is not a good fertiliser,” said Nisha.

The group also has a banana circle that needs to be rehabilitated.

“We tried to eat the banana fruit and suffice to say, it’s not edible yet,” said Chew, with a laugh. Previously, there was a wide variety of edible plants around the banana circle but a rainstorm ruined everything and the group had to regrow them again. Then there was the haze last month where the group had to minimise their gardening activity.

Under discussion now is a plan to build a structure to collect rainwater for the garden.

“Watering every day is a challenge and we don’t have a roof to harvest rainwater,” said Loh. Despite the myriad challenges, the group is determined to keep the garden going.

“When we started the garden, we thought of it as a way for people to grab stuff to go with their food. For example, if I want some fresh herbs or veggies to go with my bowl of noodles, I could just pop by the garden and grab some.

“But to be honest, we’re pretty much starting over after the haze and there isn’t much to grab at the moment,” said Loh.

Tam hopes that more people in the neighbourhood will come in to be a part of the TTDI Edible Project.

“We want to get people to learn that it’s not easy to grow your own food. Through the TTDI Edible Project, we’ve certainly developed an appreciation for growing real organic produce,” said Tam.

Though Loh admitted the idea has not been widely-received, she also hopes to see more people from the community adopt a bed at the garden.

“When we started working on the garden, there was no real design or plan. We believe in letting the garden evolve on its own. That’s why it’s important for the community to get involved. Everyone here has ownership and they too, can instill a sense of responsibility for the garden.”