Jamie Chua is known for living the high life, whether it’s toting one of her over 200 Hermès bags, donning covetable couture outfits, or flaunting that famous fingerprint-protected walk-in wardrobe that spans 700 sq ft (about the size of a three-room flat).
But two words that people wouldn’t usually associate with the Singaporean socialite? Gardening and farming. And yet, that’s precisely what she’s been up to at home.
If you’re among Jamie's whopping 1.2mil Instagram followers, 540k YouTube subscribers, or 250k TikTok followers, you’d have noticed lush lemon trees and beautiful blooming roses in her fabulous fashion posts and videos. These aren’t just photo backdrops or an external location that the social media maven is shooting at, but the thriving mini farm and garden in her 10,000 sq ft two-storey home.
She’s even recently dedicated a separate Instagram account (@jamies.secretgarden) to give folks a closer look at her farm and garden. In her garden, she grows everything from lemons and guavas to brinjals and lady’s fingers that she harvests for meals.
In addition, four adorably fluffy silkie hens and two chicks live in her mini farm, each with their own coop, or as Jamie calls them, chicken bungalows or “chickalows”.
Like the rest of her lavish lifestyle, it doesn’t come cheap. “I thought it was going to be an economical hobby, but I was so wrong,” Jamie tells 8 Days. “It really takes a lot to keep a garden thriving, like special soil, compost, fertilisers, bug sprays. Buying plants is very expensive as well.”
“It’s very hard to estimate [how much I’ve spent on my garden so far], but it’s probably a [low five-figure] sum.”
Her biggest foliage splurge are undoubtedly the lemon trees, Jamie reveals. She has about 10 lemon trees in her garden, and the priciest one is also her largest tree — a Meyer lemon tree that was “over $1,000”. The other nine set her back about $650 each.
“I’ve also spent a lot of money on my roses ’cos I have so many. I must have over 100 pots of roses! One is over $30. You think it sounds cheap enough but when you need that many for a large space, it really [adds up]. I have to put three rose plants in each planter, so that’s almost $100 already. And I have so many planters — the planters in my car porch are all roses.” As for the Silkie chickens, two were bought at $60 each, two are adopted, and the chicks were given to her by a friend.
Jamie tells us that her love for gardening and farming began a long time ago, even before the pandemic struck.
“When I was a small girl, I used to keep regular chickens in the backyard for eggs. I lived very near a chicken farm when I was growing up, so I always had an affinity with chickens,” Jamie divulges.
She’d already begun sprucing up her garden at home even before the circuit breaker, adorning it with lemon trees and roses to re-create “Italy summer vibes” in her own backyard. “I’m very thankful that I did that ’cos during the lockdown we were all stuck at home, and it’s nice to have a tranquil space to chill outdoors,” Jamie recalls.
“I kept myself busy by tending to the plants, watching them grow day by day. It was all very fulfilling.”
Currently, she’s also incubating some eggs laid by her silkies, “because all my friends, those who live in landed homes, want to keep chickens too, so I’m trying to breed for my friends”. [Under Singapore law, it's legal to keep up to 10 chickens only if you stay in a private residence.]
She muses: “I may keep one or two for myself and give the rest away. It’s really therapeutic.”
8DAYS: What was your garden like prior to this?
JAMIE CHUA: My garden area was empty for the longest time – I’ve been living in this house for more than 10 years and gardening was not one of my hobbies simply because I didn’t have much time for that. I have got some very old fruit trees at my back garden but that was about it. The rest of the garden space that you see on Instagram now are newly created since the pandemic or some time before the pandemic.
What changes did you make to the garden?
I started to plant many lemon trees even before the pandemic ’cos I wanted to create an Italian garden feel ’cos I love Italy so much. I also grew my own vegetables, and lots of roses. I love roses. I even grew my own flower tea from the garden everything is organically grown. I make tea from rose petals, pandan, lemongrass, mint, butterfly pea, just to name a few. The entire garden is actually an edible garden — there’s hardly anything that isn’t edible.
How much time do you spend on your garden?
During lockdown, I could spend about three hours just labelling my plants and fertilising the plants. I think it’s all very therapeutic. Now that things have gotten back to normal — but of course I’m still not travelling — I’m in my garden every morning. Once I wake up, I’ll have my coffee in the garden space and then I will spend some time with my silkie chickens in the farm picking up fresh eggs. They egg every day – I enjoy watching the process of them laying eggs when I have time. On days when I’m busy, like today, I only managed to spend 15 minutes having a quick coffee, and taking a quick look at the silkies before I rushed out for a lunch meeting.
Does anyone help you with the garden and farm, in terms of advice or maintaining it?
I do a lot of research actually. On nights I can’t sleep I usually research and read up on the certain plants and vegetables that are growing, what they need. I have a gardener that comes over every week but all he does is to prune my grass and trim the tall trees that aren’t possible to do myself. Some of my trees are very tall. I have some fruit trees like guava, custard apple, rose apple, that are very old so they’re very tall. So those need a little more professional help, and it’s kind of dangerous for me to get up on the tall ladder
What about your children, Calista and Cleveland?
Not at all! My children have moved out actually. They all live in their own apartments now and the’yre just not into gardening.
Someone recently spent $40,000 on a plant. Would you do that?
No, I wouldn’t get a plant like that, not for $40k. Just some months ago, I saw a Japanese maple tree — actually it’s not even a tree, it’s about 1.5m tall — and its leaves change colour. It was about $800+ for that small plant. I had to pass on that ’cos I know that it’s not going to be able to survive. So you got to know what works and what won’t, and not waste your money on plants that are not going to work. There’s a lot of knowledge that goes into it — where to put it, some need partial shade some need full sun — so you can’t just blindly buy a plant and not give it attention. If you do that it's eventually going to be a barren garden again.
Let’s talk about the silky chickens. How did you get into rearing them?
Actually, I didn’t know that such a thing existed. I’ve always loved chickens they’re always one of my preferred pets to have. When I was a small girl, I used to keep regular chickens in the backyard for eggs. I lived very near a chicken farm when I was growing up, so I always had an affinity with chickens. Of course, I didn’t know that it was even legal to keep chickens that’s why I didn’t explore that. And many people advised against it, saying it might attract snakes, but so far so good, we don’t have any snake problem. My chickens are safe from snakes ’cos once it gets dark, the chickens go back to their respective bungalows that I call ‘chickalows’. They know how to go home, which is very cute. Then we lock it, they go to sleep, and in the morning they come out to play again.
Where did you first see the silkie chickens?
I’ve been looking for a new place to stay actually, and I’ve been viewing houses. One of the houses I viewed had a chicken bungalow but there were no chickens inside — I think they went to the vet. But I asked the owner about it and they said they had silky chickens. I asked what are silky chickens are, and Googled them and thought they’re so adorable. And I was like, “Is it even legal to keep chickens [at home]?” I went to find out more, and I found out that it’s legal for each household to keep up to 10 chickens in a private residence. But actually, I can keep more here — I don’t know why they limit me to 10. It depends on how much space you have, right? Maybe I might write in to appeal [chuckles].
And you can’t just buy silkie chickens from any farm or shop. Nobody sells them. So what happened was I put on my IG stories and asked my followers if anyone knows where I can buy silkie chickens in Singapore. One of them actually keeps them, and told me about it. He turned out to be a 15-year-old boy who was kind enough to help me get my first two silkies from a private breeder. After that I got to know some [other silkie owners] and they became friends with me and we started chatting. And some people wanted to rehome their silkies and that’s why two of my silkies were adopted.
The whole set-up you have at home looks very elaborate – from the chicken coop to the incubator.
I tell you, when I wanna do something I just go all out [laughs]. The farm area used to be just an empty grass patch. I converted that into a farm within one weekend. My two helpers are very handy and they come from kampongs, so they know how farm things work, which helps a lot. I wanted to build this mini farm area where I grew edibles so that the chickens can munch on it. It used to be green but after I put the chickens there, it’s become brown they ate all my grass. And within one weekend we bought mesh and sticks and my two helpers and me, just designed a DIY fence so it wasn’t anything professional. I wanted to do picket fences, but until today I haven’t been able to find someone to do it for me. So we just made do with strong mesh and gardening sticks. Of course, they’re the sturdy good quality ones. And we tie the cables and that’s a farm!
And I bought the two chickalows brand new from someone who bought it but thought it was too small for her flock. I also went on Carousell and saw another guy selling, and I was like, “Okay, I’m sending a Grab over now ’cos I need it by tonight!” It was done very easily. And with some Googling, I managed to order accessories and food for them.
What do you feed them?
I feed them chicken feed pellets, mixed with seeds, corn, fresh fruits and vegetables like carrots, even bittergourd and a bit of ginger to keep their immune system strong. I have corn treats and dried worms and dried grasshopper. And I also compost and grow my own fresh worms. These fresh worms are very big thick and juicy, and when there are many worms, I bring the chickens to the area to eat and they love it. People tell me silkies are very bad layers, but mine are so well fed, they egg every day.
What happens to the eggs? Eat or incubate?
My farm eggs we eat them – so in the mornings we have half boiled eggs, no seasoning needed 'cos they're so fresh and so delicious. I eat them ’cos now I don’t have a rooster. I’ve been incubating a fresh batch of eggs that were given to me by my friends who are silkie owners. So I’m incubating eggs now but they’re not from my farm.
What else do you hope to add to Jamie’s Secret Garden?
I’ve always wanted a peacock and I’m still considering, but I’ll need to move to a place that can actually house a peacock. But I don't know how far this would go, because even though they’re nice to look at, I think they’re very smelly and very aggressive. They’re not lovable, and not like my silkies that you can carry around. You can’t carry a peacock. And they’re expensive also — I’m not sure of the exact price, but it’s definitely above $5,000. So if they fly away, that’s it.
I also want a pig. But I don’t know where to buy one. I’m still trying to find out if I need a special permit to keep one. But it won’t be [in this house] — it’ll be when I move and I can build a space that is conducive for the animals. I think I’ll need more outdoor space, and this time, I want to build a house [for the chickens] instead of buying ready-made ones. I want to build a barn house to house all the chickens and the pig. It’ll be so cute, and I can spend all day there.
I’m really happy with how [my garden] is, but I will curate it better when I get a new place and maybe add more flowering plants. Some trees are very expensive and can cost like $20k, and I don’t know if they will actually grow in our weather, so we’ll see.
Do you spend more time on your garden and farm now, or on bags and fashion?
I never spend time on bags. I don’t want to look at them every day. They can’t even move. The chickens can move and interact and all that and it makes you feel very happy looking at them. I mean, staring at a closet of handbags can look a little bit lame, right? But if you’re enjoying looking at how your chickens interact, it’s a much healthier kind of lifestyle. It’s not that I don’t like my bags, it’s just that they’re inanimate. I don’t spend time looking for bags ’cos I think there are a lot more things I can do with my life than to keep chasing handbags.