Special Focus on Leong Liew Geok – “The Gardener Talks to Plants”

This is Part Four of SP’s first “Special Focus” series, looking at the extraordinary gardening poems of Leong Liew Geok. Born in Penang, Malaysia, Leong moved to Singapore in 1981. Thereafter, she published two important collections of poems, Love Is Not Enough (1991) and Women without Men (2000). The gardening poems in her second book represent a signal achievement in Singapore poetry. Alternating between lyrics and dramatic monologues, they are a sustained engagement with the cultivation of both self and environment. Appearing every Thursday, the series will end with the publication of a new gardening poem by Leong. Photographs taken by the poet provide intimate glimpses of her garden and, by extension, Singapore, the Garden City.


The Gardener Talks to Plants
by Leong Liew Geok


It’s me again —
How’s the soil today? And the air?
Too hot and dry? Nothing to be done
Apart from daily watering till the sky breaks.
It won’t be long before a nice long bath
Arrives. Leaves up, not limp now.
Watch your postures. Take a leaf from cactii —
They stand proud even when sick and dying
Inside. True, they don’t need to drink as much
But they flower more, compared to greedy
Good-for-nothing you. I’m waiting for your
Blooming turn, you barren runts.
As for you, I’ll have to shave your top
To make your sides fill out.

You could all make less work for me
But you don’t. Here’s some bone-meal
For nice fat amaryllis bulbs — I’ve been waiting
For your leaves to die so that I can dig
You up for wintering in the fridge
So you’ll bloom again, for free.
At least you’re into flowers, fair Tibouchina;
Here’s a treat of sheep dung and osmocote
To keep you rich in royal purple.
I suppose I’ll have to feed you too
Although you haven’t stopped sulking
Since you were moved. Forget your former neighbours —
Be grateful, Hibiscus, you haven’t been disowned;
And listen to a final warning: behave — and bloom!


Reprinted with the kind permissions of author and Marshall Cavendish International (Asia) Pte Ltd, the poem “The Gardener Talks to Plants” first appeared in Women without Men (Times Books International, 2000).


Leong Liew Geok

Born in Penang, Malaysia, Leong Liew Geok has lived in Singapore since 1981. She is the author of Love is Not Enough (1991) and Women without Men (2000). She edited More than Half the Sky: Creative Writings by Thirty Singaporean Women (1998; repr. 2009 ) and Literary Singapore: A directory of contemporary writing in Singapore (2011) for the National Arts Council. She taught at the Department of English Language and Literature, National University of Singapore from 1981-2002. More recently, her poems have appeared online in Softblow Poetry Journal and Blue Lyra Review. She is (still!) working on her third collection of poems, envisaged for publication in 2016.



Photo of the flowers of the Bleeding Heart Vine (Clerodendrum thomsoniae) by Leong Liew Geok



The intent of Singapore Poetry’s “Special Focus” series is to highlight an important aspect of the work of an established poet of Singapore. This aspect may be a thematic thread or a formal preoccupation; it will provide a vital way into the poet’s writings. By making available a substantial selection of poems, SP hopes to encourage both readerly and critical immersion in the poet’s body of work. We begin to see connections, reiterations and reformulations that are missed in reading just one poem.


About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.

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