Farewell, My One Year Old Garden

Farewell my garden. You are unlike any of the gardens I have shaped. In terms of money, barely any was spent on you. You were made of waste, scavenged together. You ignited from three bags of composted food waste – a friend’s contribution. Plants grew from seeds of eaten fruits. Plant cuttings taken fondly from families, friends and around the neighbourhood. The fertility came from our kitchen scraps, dried leaves the landscapers swept up, logs from pruned roadside trees, and pee. Even water, none of it came straight from the tap. Aside from rain, I spoiled you with flavoured water: mop water, shower water, rice water. Don’t feel upset, I did splurge on you once; I burst a pipe while digging in a garden for heliconia rhizomes, and had to pay for a plumber.

In terms of time, I was in no rush. There was no client, no remuneration, and no deadlines. As such, you were nurtured more than manufactured. I realized my zeal for gardening one day, when I came home to tend to you after a full day of paid gardening work, while my toddler waits impatiently by the gate in her blue swimming suit.


Before it all. Yellowing grass with bald patches.

So, thank you my garden, for being a small haven I could escape to, whenever living in this sprawling, car-centered city became unbearable and frustrating. You shielded me from the nakedness of modern ‘open living’, and I could live freely at home with windows wide open.

Thank you flowers, for colours. Sorry for brushing you off as ‘ornamental’, and favouring edibles for the past few years. It was my first time planting something I could not eat. Yet, unlike feeding mouths, a single flower feeds a hundred pair of eyes without diminishing. You made me realize that beauty, while not needed to survive, is essential for living.

Thank you dandelions, for delighting my daughter when I blow your seeds in a puff. And for your tiny pink and purple wildflowers. You were abundant in the beginning, but disappeared as the soil became more fertile. Like the Taoist sages, you withdrew quietly once your work was accomplished. Through you, I saw ecological succession enacted, no longer merely a concept I read in books.


Green papaya salad, buried under the peanuts, lime, and tomatoes.

Thank you neighbour, for raising a complaint about the lush vegetation. You gave me a chance to practice kindness in conflict. Thank you for accepting the first papaya from the garden as a peace offering. I was happy when you came back to ask for a second one, and even more so when you used it to make a salad as an offering for your prayers.

Thank you bean, for germinating. I didn’t know my two year old darling sowed you in the middle of our already tiny lawn. You are her first, and I hope, of many to come.


Aerial view of the green snowflake leaves of the papayas

Thank you papayas, for sharing space. I didn’t have faith that so many of you would make it big. I was surprised how you all tried to make do in a tight space. Some bent over to make space for others. The slower ones waited patiently in the shade of their faster siblings, biding time for their chance in full sun. It reminded me of my childhood, when eight of us lived happily in a flat. Yet I know of couples that cannot stand each other within the vastness of a mansion. Sorry I had to take some of you out, the garden was getting too shady. I made sure the parang was sharp and my chop swift. Please don’t feel bad that I tasted your fruits only vicariously through my neighbours.

Thank you mimosa, for having us tread lightly. And lengthening our walk to the gate as we skirt around you. Just between us, I was hoping the softer grasses would smother you as the soil improves. I did swing the scythe harder on you. But you stayed on, obliging to shut your leaves every time my daughter probed. It must have been tedious for you, so I’m glad she got over it after a few days.

IMG20181026184541Thank you bananas, for the sheer amount of leaf area. For gifting your leaves to our neighbours for making kuih. As I sat down with a pencil in hand to sketch you, I watched over the span of a few days as your leaves swiveled around like helicopter blades, optimising solar capture. You and I had only five minutes each day before my daughter would burst in and attempt to take over the sketching, but without her disruptions, your graceful movements would have gone unnoticed. Thank you for flowering, and sorry we couldn’t wait another forty days for your sweet yellow nuggets.

Thank you crickets, for returning, when the weeds grew taller and thicker. Your lullabies put us to sound sleep.

Thank you soil, for responding readily. To be honest, I did not expect much from coarse construction sand that even grass struggled on. But you did your very best with all the organic matter I fed you with. And did so quietly in the dark without glamour. Keep it to yourself, but I cared more for you than for the plants, because I know they will be fine if you are too.

Sorry my garden, you were before your time. You are too kampung, at a time when people want it nothing more than as nostalgia. After all, why go through the effort to buy an upscale gated residence if the landscape was bananas and papayas, what they have always had since childhood. Too common, cheap. You would be better appreciated in other times, when my species has found peace with Mother Nature and ourselves. We take for granted the “ecological services” you do, day in, day out, for free, without fanfare:

  • sequestering carbon,
  • soaking up rainwater to prevent flash floods,
  • mitigating urban heat effect,
  • filtering greywater and urine to reduce load on the sewers,
  • absorbing city noises with your soft leaves,
  • catching dust and pollutants,
  • giving refuge for biodiversity,
  • diverting food and landscape waste from our burgeoning landfills.

Perhaps you should charge for them, request for green awards, be a little loud. But I know you care naught about money and fame, and will continue your thankless work, like a mother for her children.

So my garden, you were not the prettiest. Messy to most, and I admit – even to myself occasionally. You withered and browned, when we were away during the dry season. Became unruly, when the monsoon arrived. But you were a beauty, to me. You hold the parts of me that died everyday. My sweat and skin in the shower water, my hair, my nails, and my urine. I became you.

I knew you were never going to be around for long when I first started. Our time and space here was borrowed for a year. You were an offshoot to the larger and more well-funded gardens I was to build. But that never reduced my enthusiasm. Didn’t stop the planting of perennials. Because the joy of watching you grow was no less than your yield of flowers and fruits.

So farewell, my one year old garden. From dust to dust, from nothing to nothing, such is life. Now the carnival is over.

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