SLA orders removal of retiree's secret garden in Choa Chu Kang after Facebook post by hiker

The elderly couple successfully grew a number of plants on state land.

Karen Lui | March 26, 2021, 11:54 PM

Follow us on Telegram for the latest updates:

Unbeknownst to many except hikers who pass through the area, a forest in Choa Chu Kang is home to a little hut and garden that were secretly built by a couple in their 70s.

Two staff from the relevant authorities were notified and started investigations after a netizen had posted about it on a local hiking Facebook group.

According to the report by Shin Min Daily News (SMDN), the netizen had brought the two staff to the forest near Kranji Camp and approached the elderly man sawing wood outside the little hut for a chat.

Post-retirement eden

The netizen had heard that this elderly man and a few friends who lived in Yew Tee had built a little hut in the forest, as well as set up a plantation that was around the size of three to four five-room flats.

When SMDN visited the site, they found the garden 30 minutes from the main road.

There was a couple in their seventies resting in a hut constructed with four wooden pillars and a canvas sheet.

The 75-year-old man, identified only by his surname Wu (translated from Chinese), said that he had started growing crops in this forest some years ago.

However, after the forest near the main road was used to build a dormitory, he and his friends had to find another place. They subsequently found the current space and started growing their crops here.

He disclosed that the two huts were built as a form of shelter from rain.

He typically rode his bicycle from home to this spot everyday to spend over two hours on the chores, but has never spent a night in the forest.

"This is our solace after our retirement," he added.

Wu confirmed that a few days ago, the relevant authorities have dropped by to check on them and he had told them everything about his secret garden.

"I am still unsure if I am able to continue growing crops. Compared to drinking tea and chitchatting at a coffee shop, this lifestyle is a lot more interesting. It would definitely be a pity if I could no longer come here."

Photo by SMDN.

Crops eaten by wild boars

According to SMDN, the netizen who wrote the Facebook post explained that although some people questioned the necessity to rob other people's simple life pleasures, one needs to consider risks such as attacks by wild animals, falling trees and sudden health crises.

Wu and his wife said that they chose this spot due to its proximity to a water source and its exposure to the sun rays.

They have grown potato leaves, chilli padi, mint leaves and other plants, including banana trees and papaya trees that measure around three to four metres in height.

"Previously we also had pineapple and cassava but the wild boars would eat them all so now we stopped growing them."

The husband and wife duo added that they have always taken extra care against the wild animals in the forest and avoid coming down when it rains and the roads are slippery. Hence, they have not encountered any dangerous situations and have enjoyed blissful peace in their little eden.

Wu said, "I have a mobile phone and can call for help if anything happens."

Tracking app on mobile phone

In an interview with The New Paper (TNP), Wu's daughter, Jeslyn Goh, 32, shared that she has installed a tracking application on Wu's smartphone in the event that Wu finds himself lost in the forest.

Goh shared that although she feels worried when he spends hours to do gardening, she knows "how happy this makes him" and that he "loves to bring home fruits and vegetables for all of" them.

When TNP asked about her response to the need for Wu to vacate the area, Goh replied,

"I understand where SLA is coming from. After all, he is using state land. But I also feel sad because he told me this is the retirement life he has always wanted and he doesn't know what to do after this. It breaks my heart to see him upset."

According to Goh, Wu was put on the wait list after applying for an allotment garden plot under the National Parks Board's Allotment Gardening Scheme last year.

Goh told TNP that she hopes her father can "continue his gardening hobby since it makes him so happy" and "also keeps him active and healthy".

Durian pickers disrupt peace

Wu told SMDN that hardly anyone came through this area in the past but around a year ago, more people gradually visited the durian trees nearby to harvest durians.

According to observations by SMDN, the little farm has two huts with a short fence to keep out the wild boars.

Photo by SMDN.

The "farm owner" would occasionally smoulder egg cartons to keep mosquitos at bay and water the trees with collected water.

Wu believes nature and humans can co-exist and is not worried about any danger.

SLA's response

When contacted by Mothership, Singapore Land Authority (SLA) has confirmed that they have inspected the site on Mar. 19, 2021 and spoken to the involved parties.

Here is the full statement by an SLA spokesperson:

"SLA officers inspected the site on 19 March. Following that, SLA has engaged the individuals who have been carrying out cultivation on the site and explained that such cultivation constitutes a trespass offence under the State Lands Encroachments Act. We have also placed an advisory at the site requiring all items to be removed by 9 April. SLA will assist to clear any makeshift shelter, cultivation and items on site after 9 April.

At one of the individual’s request, we will refer him to a relevant agency to advise on how he could pursue his gardening interest."

Hikers' response

Members in Facebook group Singapore Hikers have expressed divided opinions on this case.

One user defended the actions of the hiker and authorities, citing potential undesirable consequences such as pests.

Screenshot via Singapore Hikers.

Others lambasted the nosy hiker who had posted in the Facebook group that resulted in the unceremonious treatment of the avid hobby gardener.

Screenshot via Singapore Hikers.

Screenshot via Singapore Hikers.

According to one user, the unidentified hiker who made the report appeared to have shared his findings in the Facebook group.

Screenshot via Singapore Hikers.

Screenshot via Singapore Hikers. 

One member came out to speak up about said hiker who harboured good intentions behind their actions.

Screenshot via Singapore Hikers.

Others also pointed out the catch-22 situation faced by said hiker.

Screenshot via Singapore Hikers.

Screenshot via Singapore Hikers.

Another member in the group also shared some community gardening initiatives for others who shared Wu's enthusiasm.

Those who wish to garden in a safe and legal manner may approach Edible Garden City and Ground Up Initiative.

Top images by SMDN.