garden tales from a Brit abroad
It seems appropriate that Singapore is the only country in the world with a hybrid as its national flower, the orchid Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim.’ This is such a manicured, efficient, tightly-managed country, that somehow a natural species wouldn’t seem quite right as its symbol.
It’s also a country with many admirable policies on sustainability, some of which have been in place since the 1960s. The most obvious result is the sheer amount of green space that is crammed (neatly of course) into every spare inch of the island – on rooftops and roadsides, along walkways, in window boxes and tubs, sometimes vertically, sometimes hundreds of feet in the air.
The excellent botanical gardens are an interesting mix, with lawns, trees and traditionally labelled plants in borders, laid out around a dramatic remnant of Singapore’s tropical rainforest. Saving the remaining small portions of original jungle is admirable, and I liked the boardwalks that allowed visitors to stroll through the primeval vegetation. But it did feel rather as if Singapore can’t quite allow all that scale and lushness and primitive disorder to persist without it being surrounded and constrained by the neat classifications and control of the botanical displays.
Almost as dramatic as the rainforest was a brand new public park built on the marina, called Gardens by the Bay. It’s hard not to be impressed by this vast construction, with its artificial supertrees, lakes, displays, gardens, and glass conservatories. Indeed it just won the World Building of the Year award, for its celebration of nature in such a dense urban environment, and its innovative, naturally-cooled glasshouses. Everything about it is big and confident – the dazzling view across the site as visitors arrive on an elevated walkway, the group of vast supertrees (described rather incongruously as a grove), the curvaceous glasshouses, and the external planting all colour co-ordinated with the maroon of the construction materials.
Inside the first of the glasshouses, called the Flower Dome, are carefully-arranged displays of plants from every continent, with explanations of their origin, uses and cultivation needs. These are supplemented by seasonal shows aimed particularly at kids. For us it was autumnal harvests; now it’s apparently Christmas scenes. The dome itself is rather beautiful, with its high-tech curved glass ceiling stretching out above the displays.
The second glasshouse is billed as a Cloud Forest, mimicking mists and mountains with a vast cascade (apparently the biggest indoor waterfall in the world), and masses of tropical vertical planting.
All a bit shipshape and tidy for me, certainly compared with scruffy, ancient, irrepressible India, but fascinating and deeply impressive all the same. For more examples of interesting garden initiatives in Singapore, see Noel Kingsbury’s recent post on the Gardening Gone Wild blog. If, like me, you’re fascinated by park signage, I’ve written about a few examples from this visit in Tell-tale signs. And in my next post, I’ll explore an award-winning neighbourhood park we saw while in Singapore.