Gardening enthusiasts and more families can nurture their own small gardens as the National Parks Board (NParks) is doubling the number of available plots to 2,000 over the next year.

The additional plots, each about the size of a queen-sized bed, will be spread across 18 parks, including Aljunied Park, Choa Chu Kang Park, Punggol Waterway Park and West Coast Park.

Applications are now open and will end on Nov 8.

Along with the extra allotments, NParks will also be distributing about 60,000 seeds — such as for Kangkong and Chinese Spinach — to the public and holding free online masterclasses on how to grow the more difficult varieties like capsicums and tomatoes.

These virtual classes, which were launched as part of the NParks’ fourth Community Garden Festival at Hort Park on Saturday (Oct 25), ran last weekend and will also be available free on the NParks Youtube channel later for those who are interested.

NParks on Saturday also announced two new attractions — My Backyard Kitchen and Valley of Edibles — at Hort Park, showcasing edibles such as Lady’s Fingers and Brinjal.

The community garden festival is part of the edible horticulture master plan, launched by NParks in 2017, to increase knowledge and interest in community gardening by providing support to the public through practical and material resources.

Under this master plan, NParks will add more spaces for gardening, increase training opportunities and outreach programmes.

At Saturday’s event, the winners of the Community In Bloom awards which recognise excellence in gardening efforts by community groups were also announced. All participating gardens were awarded an achievement band of bronze, silver, gold, or platinum.

Gardens that have achieved platinum awards for three years in a row were elevated to the diamond band, which was accorded to 17 gardens this year.

NParks said this was the highest number of diamond awards given out in a year, representing a “rising quality in community gardens”.

The award-winners said the gardens have forged a community-building spirit among those who work on them.

Mrs Rina Lai, 49, of the Toh Yi resident’s network, a diamond award winner, said she had difficulty reintegrating into the Singapore community when she returned eight years ago after being in the United Kingdom for six years.

Through the community gardening programmes, she was able to meet other people and form a sense of belonging in her estate.

“We have managed to build up a very strong spirit with the residents by working on the garden together,” said Mrs Lai, who is self-employed.

Minister for National Development Desmond Lee, who spoke at the opening of the event, also highlighted the positive effect gardening can have on social well-being, especially in the midst of a pandemic.

“This is a meaningful activity that can strengthen bonds between friends, families, and society. It can bring us hope and cheer during challenging times,” he said.

Originally published in The Straits Times.