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Gardening in Singapore: Local professional Teo Choon Han shares his tips

Known by all as Teo (pronounced “tee-oh” rather than “tay-oh”, although he’s delightfully unbothered), Teo Choon Han is probably the only gardener in Singapore with a horticultural diploma who is quite so covered in grass dust.

Extremely hands-on, he will not only maintain any garden for the best price I’ve found, but – and this is where his true talent lies – will landscape your garden, charging a fraction of what you would expect to pay for this service back home. He can also get you wholesale prices on plants.

 

If you have no idea what tropical plants are out there, let alone what they need in the way of light and shade, Teo is your man and he will work to any budget.

Self-employed, he has been a landscape gardener for about 20 years and, as you’d expect, really knows his stuff: he calls plants by their Latin names (make sure you have that iPad handy so you can google what on earth an anthurium looks like); he understands that soil conditions at rental houses can be limiting; and he knows what will thrive in sunny spots and what will cover up a shady side-return nicely. Try politely asking him to buy a jasmine to pin to a wall that gets minimal sun and I almost guarantee you will be met by a raised eyebrow and a “No ma’am, you waste money like that.”

Be warned though, he is slightly scatty – you can’t have it all – and this can manifest itself with him struggling to remember some clients’ names. (When this happens, he rather charmingly resorts to calling them after the trees in their garden: he has a “rambutan” client, and another that he calls “bonsai”.) It can also mean he is rather loose on timing. This is not really an insurmountable problem and all you need to do is remind him a day or two before he is due. He is good enough and well-priced enough to make this smidgen of extra admin worth it. If you can’t stand this method of managing him, then he’s not for you.

Teo will also run through a watering schedule after everything is in the ground. He cites over-watering as the biggest plant-killer and is very precise on the exact amount of water required (one cup, half a cup and so on) in order for your beautiful, newly designed garden to flourish.

Teo’s Gardening Tips

  • Garden maintenance isn’t just about cutting grass; it’s about removing ready-to-drop coconuts from palm trees, clearing gutters and pruning plants.
  • If you want herbs, don’t plant them directly in the earth; use a trough. You can fill it with organic soil, and any fertiliser you use won’t get washed away.
  • The beautiful staghorn fern and bird’s nest fern are the perfect plants for shady spots.
  • Craving a kitchen garden? The best vegetables to grow in Singapore are sweet potatoes, lady’s fingers (okra), chillies and tomatoes. One herb that does especially well in tropical climes is Thai basil.

A little bit more about the man himself

Age: 53

Kids: 2

Lives in: Pasir Ris

Favourite hawker dish: Prawn mee (noodles)

Favourite thing to grow: Bonsai

Chinese zodiac sign: Rat

Teo can be contacted at 9692 6515.
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